Studies in the Scriptures
Zion's Watch Tower
"THE SIGN OF THE SON OF MAN IN HEAVEN"
"Then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory."
Various suggestions have been made by scholars respecting the import of this prophecy by the Master.
Some guessed that the sign would be a Cross in the sky.
Others thought that it would be Christ Himself, who would appear in some wrathful form to humanity, causing fear and dismay.
We cannot say that the sign of the Son of Man in heaven will be His Parousia. On the contrary, the Parousia of Christ will not be known to the tribes, or families, of the earth in general, but will be known only to the most saintly ones of the Church of Christ. Consequently, the sign of the Son of Man must in some sense stand related to His Epiphania, or shining forth in the "flaming fire" of judgment, which the whole world of mankind will recognize. —
The word "sign" is of broad meaning; for instance, crepe is a sign of mourning; the Cross represents Christianity; the Crescent, Mohammedanism. In other words, a sign is merely an indication. So when we read of the "sign of the Son of Man in heaven," the thought might properly be that something will occur indicative of the presence of the Son of Man—that He has taken to Himself His great power and has begun His reign. Since the Son of Man is to be revealed in flaming fire, taking vengeance, it follows that this sign must be some sign of vengeance, some indication of righteous indignation against wrong.—
JUDGMENT TO BEGIN WITH THE CHURCH
The question, then, arises, How would such a sign, or indication, appear in the sky, in the heavens? We reply that this is not the thought. On the contrary, let us remember that the Bible repeatedly uses the words heaven, mountain, sea, in a symbolical manner—the earth representing organized society; the mountains representing kingdoms, as the backbones of this organized society; the seas representing the restless masses of humanity, continually seeking to swallow up the social "earth." In the same symbolic terms the heavens represent the ecclesiastical powers of the world—churchianity. The sign appearing in the heavens signifies that the beginning of Christ’s judgments will fall upon the ecclesiastical systems of our day. The flaming fire of judgments will first manifest itself in ecclesiastical affairs and circles.
Mankind will gradually become awakened to the thought that a new Government is in control, and that its policy will be the law of "judgment to the line and righteousness to the plummet." Since unrighteousness is prevalent as a result of man’s fallen condition, the conscience of the whole world will be awakened, quickened; and fear, dread, will come upon all classes everywhere. This will be not only because they will see the primary sign of Christ’s righteous judgments in religious circles, but because they will see Him
—drawing nearer and nearer in judgment; and they will recognize that they, too, must shortly be involved. Hence there will be mourning because of Him.—
Furthermore, it will be remembered that all the families of the earth have very crude and incorrect views of Messiah and of the object of His Second Coming and Kingdom. The "doctrines of devils," brought into the church creeds during the Dark Ages, have so made void the Word of God that the majority of mankind fear the Almighty, dread Him as their Almighty Foe, instead of realizing Him to be the God of all grace and the Father
of all mercies, "from whom cometh every good and perfect gift."—
The eyes of the world have been blinded to the goodness of God. Terrible dread in the hearts of humanity will lead to the wail of fear as they perceive Christ’s righteous judgments encircling all the earth— "The signs and groanings promised To precede a second birth."
Not knowing of a "second birth" and all the glorious blessings which Messiah’s Kingdom is designed to bring to mankind, human hearts will be filled with dread and apprehension. Only those who are truly the Lord’s and are rightly informed respecting the Divine Plan of the Ages will be able to lift up their heads and rejoice, knowing that their "deliverance draweth nigh."—
"THE HEAVENS BEING ON FIRE"
St. Peter apparently described this sign of the Son of Man in the heavens, revealed in flaming fire. His words are, "The heavens being on fire shall be dissolved," and "the earth also [shall take fire] and the works that are therein shall be burned up." (
.) Let us not make the mistake of our forefathers in supposing that these descriptions mean a literal burning of the literal earth. Let us, on the contrary, realize that the symbolical earth and the symbolical heavens are to catch fire and pass away with a great commotion, while the physical earth will remain practically as it is, and will begin to undergo the transforming influences of Restitution under the new King, the Restorer of all things—The Christ.
It will be noticed that St. Peter mentions the fire as coming to the heavens before it reaches the earth, in just the same order that Jesus stated the matter. The sign, manifestation, of the flaming fire of judgments will appear in the heavens; and subsequently the sign of the Son of Man in judgment will be seen coming nearer and nearer to earth’s affairs, with a view to purging them absolutely from everything sinful, selfish, unjust.
We are told that the elements will melt with fervent heat. We see the Capitalistic element and the Labor element separating, the one from the other. We see the preparations for the great conflagration, the great Time of Trouble. We sometimes speak of it in this language, saying, "Things are getting very hot." They will presently be so hot that spontaneous combustion will set in.
And the fire of that Day will be so extreme and its results so drastic as to fulfil the Master’s words that unless those days should be shortened no flesh could survive.
But because of the Elect, because of the Kingdom which will then be set up, those days will be shortened—brought to an end. Nothing will be destroyed except that which is injurious. The world-wide results of that flaming fire of Divine judgments will be corrective, preparing men’s hearts for the blessings which the Lord is prepared then to give. Thus it is written, "When the judgments of the Lord are abroad in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness."—
It will be noted that St. Peter, in speaking of that Time of Trouble, mentions that the heavens—ecclesiasticism—will be on fire first; and that later, the earth—society and its political, financial and social organizations—will be involved also. In harmony with this, our text tells that this sign, or indication, for the revealing of Messiah in flaming fire, will first be in the Church. Furthermore, according to St. Peter’s statement, we are to expect that the ecclesiastical heavens will pass away with a great noise—a great commotion—before the social order is fully reached by the consuming fire.—
The same thought is brought to our attention in Revelation, where a wide distinction is made between the nominal church systems, called Babylon, and the true Church, which is admonished in advance to come out of Babylon and to stand in personal relationship to God through Christ. This general call, which belongs to the end of the Age, before the judgments come upon Babylon,
reads, "Come out of her, My people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues."
The intimation is that as soon as the loyally obedient have been gathered out of Babylon some drastic trouble will come upon her.—
We should not apply this term "Babylon" to individuals, but to great systems, outwardly having a form of godliness, but really misrepresenting the Divine character, the Divine Plan, the true teachings of the Bible. Of course, the individuals identified with the systems have more or less responsibility, according to their official position and their intelligence. In similar proportion these individuals may have tribulations in conjunction with the fall of Babylon. We do not understand the term "Babylon" to be applied Scripturally to any sect or party, but rather to refer to the general conglomeration of systems and denominations. Likewise, when reading of the utter destruction that is to come upon Babylon, we are to differentiate between the systems and the individuals connected with those systems.
The judgments of the Lord are not designed to crush or destroy humanity, but to destroy utterly the systems of error, bondage and superstition which have fettered humanity and hindered them from fuller progress and development in the knowledge and favor of God. With the fall of the great systems (Babylon, confusion) men’s eyes will begin to open; the blind will begin to "see out of obscurity." (
.) As a result, the high praises of God will arise as a sweet savor.
The fall of Babylon is declared to come speedily, suddenly—figuratively, "in an hour." The descriptions of her fall are various. In one place we read that she shall be utterly burned with fire. The same symbol of fire is used by St. Peter in referring to the same trouble and destruction. In another place we read that Babylon shall be cast like a great millstone into the sea and be found no more at all.—
"EVERY EYE SHALL SEE HIM"
Throughout this Gospel Age, the Lord’s people have with the eye of faith recognized Jesus as their Redeemer and Deliverer. But comparatively few have had such eyes of faith and understanding. The majority, as the Apostle declares, are blinded by Satan and by error, and fail to get a proper, true view of Christ. He says that "the god of this world" has blinded the minds of all unbelievers. But the gracious promise of the Lord is that all the blinded eyes shall be opened.
The experiences of eighteen centuries have done little toward opening the eyes of the world; but the revelation of Messiah in flaming fire will appeal to them quickly.
They will see Him thus—"Every eye shall see Him, and those also who pierced Him"—the Jews. Instinctively they will fear. It may require a considerable time for them to become fully persuaded that the One feared is their best Friend, who gave His life as their Redemption-price, and whose judgments in the earth are for the very purpose of breaking the bondage of fear, ignorance, superstition, sin, selfishness and injustice, and of allowing the whole world to go free from a sin-slavery which has long oppressed them.—
In due time they will learn that the fire of God’s anger does not burn against the sinners for whom Christ died, but merely against their sins. The learning of this lesson will open their eyes still more widely and enable them to see something of the length, the breadth, the height and the depth of God’s Love, of which the Apostle tells.—
That the Jews will be in that trouble, the Bible distinctly marks out. It will be "the time of Jacob’s trouble, but he shall be saved out of it." (
.) The Gospel Church having been completed by that time and having passed beyond the veil, God’s favor will be restored to Natural Israel; and the time for the special manifestation of that favor will be in the dark hour of Jacob’s trouble,
when the Jews are surrounded by enemies. In and through that trouble the Lord will pour upon them the spirit of grace and of supplication, and they will look upon Him whom they pierced. (
.) They will discern that they made a great and horrible mistake in crucifying the Friend of Sinners, their long-promised Messiah. We are told that they shall mourn because of Him, and that then the spirit of supplication will come to them and they will see Jesus in His real character.
At or about that same time Divine favor will be manifested on Israel’s behalf, and the Lord will deliver them, as in olden times. Their eyes of faith and understanding will open more and more widely. Eventually, according to the Bible, they will become the leaders of mankind in returning to God, who will abundantly pardon their iniquity and grant them a prominent share in the blessings of His Kingdom.
"FEW STRIPES" AND "MANY STRIPES"
The great Messianic Kingdom will not spare the rod, but will inflict punishments for the world’s correction in righteousness. Some will suffer more and some less, according to the Master’s own statements. Those understanding the principles of righteousness and wilfully violating them will be beaten heavily, "with many stripes"; while others, such as the heathen, for instance, who knew little, will receive fewer stripes, proportionate to their ignorance. All the stripes, however, will be reformatory, and with a view to helping and encouraging the transgressors to abandon the ways of iniquity and to walk in the paths of righteousness.—
That will be a happy Day for earth’s thousands of millions—a Day with the Lord, a thousand years. Everywhere there will be evidences of the operation of Divine Mercy and Justice, and the necessary lessons will be quickly learned by all people. We cannot doubt that even fifty years of Kingdom influence will make a wonderful change in human affairs and conditions. The blessing of
the Lord will come to the earth in proportion as God’s will shall be done by mankind.
Finally, with all sin eliminated, all imperfections gone and all the wilfully wicked destroyed, every creature on earth, as well as in Heaven, will be heard saying, "Blessing and honor and glory and power be unto Him that sitteth upon the Throne and unto the Lamb forever and ever." Then, and not till then, will God’s will be done on earth, even as it is done in Heaven; for not until then will there be a perfect race capable of doing God’s will, and a tested race, all of whom will delight to do His will.
A special lesson to God’s people today is that now is the Church’s time of calling, accepting and making their election sure by hearty obedience to the Divine will. Thus neither shall we be of the world, who will wail because of the sign of the Son of Man in the dissolution of the ecclesiastical heavens, nor shall we be identified with the ecclesiastical heavens, which are to be dissolved. Rather, it is our privilege, as followers of Jesus, to walk in His steps, to stand for the right, to be guided of the Holy Spirit, to "come out of Babylon," to "touch not the unholy thing," that we may have relationship and fellowship with the Lord, with the Savior, with the holy Apostles and with all the faithful martyrs and footstep followers of our Master.
We’ve been watching, we’ve been waiting, For the star that brings the day; For the night of sin to vanish, And the mists to roll away.
We’ve been watching, we’ve been waiting, For the beauteous King of day, For the chiefest of ten thousand, For the Light, the Truth, the Way.
We begin to see the dawning Of the bright Millennial day; Soon the shadows, weary shadows, Shall forever pass away.