NO. 696: "THE SIGN OF THE SON OF MAN IN HEAVEN"

by Epiphany Bible Students


No. 696

“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.” (Matt. 24:30)

Scholars have made various suggestions regarding the significance of this prophecy by the Master. Some have guessed that the sign would be a Cross in the sky. Others have thought it would be Christ Himself who would appear to humanity in some wrathful form, causing fear and dismay. The Parousia (presence) of Christ will not be known to the tribes (families) of the earth in general, so we cannot say that the sign of the Son of Man in heaven will be His Parousia, which will be known only to the most saintly ones of the Church of Christ. Consequently, the sign of the Son of Man must be related to His Epiphania, or shining forth in the “flaming fire” of judgment, which the whole world of mankind will recognize. (2 Thes. 1:7-9)

The word “sign” has broad meaning; for instance, black crepe is a sign of mourning; the Cross represents Christianity; the Crescent represents Islam. 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 is that something will occur indicating the presence of the Son of Man – that He has assumed 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. (Isa. 59:17-18)

JUDGMENT TO BEGIN WITH ECCLESIASTICAL SYSTEMS

One might wonder how such a sign or indication could appear in the literal heavens, in the sky, but that is not the thought. We must remember that the Bible repeatedly uses the words heaven, mountain, and sea in a symbolic sense – the earth representing organized society; the mountains representing kingdoms (the backbones of this organized society); the seas representing the restless masses of humanity, continually seeking to swallow up the “earth” (the organized social structure).

In the same symbolic sense, the heavens represent the ecclesiastical powers of the world – organized nominal Christ­ianity (or “church­ianity”). The sign appearing in the heavens signifies that Christ’s judgments will begin with the eccles­iastical systems of our day. The flaming fire of judgments will first manifest itself in ecclesiastical affairs and circles.

Mankind will gradually awaken to the awareness 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.” (Isa. 28:17) Since unrighteousness prevails as a result of man’s fallen condition, the conscience of the whole world will be awakened. Fear and dread will come upon all classes everywhere, not only because they see the effects of Christ’s righteous judgments in religious affairs, but because they sense His judgments drawing nearer and nearer to their own affairs. Hence there will be mourning and wailing because of Him. (Rev. 1:7)

All the families of the earth have very crude and incorrect views of Messiah and 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: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father….” (1 Tim. 4:1; Jas. 1:17) 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.

Not knowing of the glorious blessings which Messiah’s Kingdom will 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 “redemption draweth nigh.” (Luke 21:28)

THE FIRE OF THAT DAY

St. Peter describes this sign of the Son of Man in the heavens, this revelation in flaming fire, saying, “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.” (2 Pet. 3:10-12) While our forefathers supposed that these descriptions meant a literal burning of the literal earth, we realize that the symbolic earth and the symbolic 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. (Acts 3:19-21)

The Apostle tells us that “the elements shall melt with fervent heat.” (2 Pet. 3:10) We see the division between the elements of capital and labor; we see the growing divide between the privileged elements and the under­privileged elements. 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 eventually be so hot that spontaneous combustion will set in.

The fire of that Day will be extreme and its results drastic, fulfilling the Master’s words that “except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.” (Matt. 24:22) 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 will then pour out. Thus it is written, “When thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.” (Isa. 26:9)

Notice 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 – society and its political, financial and social organizations – for the purpose of purging them absolutely from everything sinful, selfish, and unjust. We are to expect the ecclesiastical systems to pass away with a great noise – a great commotion – before the social order is fully reached by the consuming fire.

THE FALL OF BABYLON

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.” (Rev. 18:4-5) The intimation is that as soon as the loyally obedient have been gathered out of Babylon some drastic trouble will come upon her.

We do not believe the Scriptural term “Babylon” applies to any one denomination or sect, but rather refers 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. We should not apply this term “Babylon” to individuals, but to the 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 individual leaders of these systems are more or less responsible, depending upon their official position and influence, so consequently they may have tribulations in conjunction with the fall of Babylon.

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 it from fuller progress and development in the knowledge and favor of God. With the fall of the great systems (Babylon, confusion) men’s eyes and ears will begin to open, “And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness.” (Isa. 29:18) As a result, the high praises of God will arise as a sweet savor.

The fall of Babylon is declared to come speedily and suddenly: “…in one [figurative] hour is thy judgment come.” (Rev. 18:10) The descriptions of her fall are various but all point to her total destruction. In one place we read that she shall be utterly burned with fire, while in another place we read that Babylon shall be cast like a great millstone into the sea and be found no more at all. (Jer. 51:58; Rev. 18:8-21)

“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 Paul declares, are blinded by Satan and by error, and fail to get a proper, true view of Christ: “The god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not.” (2 Cor. 4:4) But God’s gracious promise is that all the blinded eyes shall be opened.

The experiences of two thousand years have done little toward opening the eyes of the world; but the revelation of Messiah in flaming fire will attract their attention quickly: “Behold he cometh with clouds [of trouble]; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him” – the Jews. (Rev. 1:7) Instinctively, they will be fearful. 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, whose judgments in the earth are for the very purpose of breaking the bondage of fear, ignorance, superstition, sin, selfishness and injustice, allowing the whole world to go free from the sin-slavery which has long oppressed them. (Rom 11:25-27)

In due time they will learn that the fire of God’s anger does not burn against the sinners but merely against their sins, and they will begin to see the length, the breadth, the height and the depth of God’s Love, which the Apostle describes. (Eph. 3:14-19; Rom. 5:6-8)

The Bible clearly points out that the Jews will be in the trouble. It will be “the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be saved out of it.” (Jer. 30:7) By that time the Gospel Church will have been completed and will have passed beyond the veil. God’s favor will then 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. (Zech. 12:10) They will discern that they made a great and horrific 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.

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. (Zech. 14:3; Rom. 2:10; 11:25-27)

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 willfully violating them will be beaten heavily, “with many stripes”; while others who knew little will receive fewer stripes in proportion to their ignorance. All the stripes, however, will be reformatory, intended to help and encourage the transgressors to abandon the ways of iniquity and to walk in the paths of righteousness. (Luke 12:47-48; Isa. 26:9)

That will be a happy Day for earth’s billions – a Day with the Lord being a thousand years. (2 Pet. 3:8) 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 sin eliminated and all the willfully wicked destroyed, every creature on earth, as well as in Heaven, will be heard saying, “Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.” (Rev. 5:13) Then, and not until 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 human race capable of doing God’s will. Having passed the test of God’s judgment, all of mankind will delight to do His will.

Let us not be identified with the ecclesiastical heavens nor wail with the world at the sign of their dissolution. Rather, it is our privilege as followers of Jesus to walk in His steps, to the best of our ability, and to stand for the Truth.

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.

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(Based on a discourse from

Pastor Russell’s Sermons, page 420)

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THE JUDGMENT DAY PICTURED BY JESUS

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me…Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:35-36,40)

This Scripture is generally misunderstood and misused, most believing it to refer to the Gospel Age. But the context shows that the Lord is here referring to those living in the Millennial Age. The principle, however, is helpful to us now, because whoever does a kindness for any one belonging to the Lord at any time is counted by Him as doing it unto Him.

In the parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matt. 25:31-46) we read, “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations.” Those spoken of here as gathered before the Throne will be the whole world of mankind (not the Church, which will be with Him on His Throne – Col. 3:4; Rev. 3:21).

Those gathered are sometimes referred to as Gentiles, meaning those not in covenant relationship with God. In the past God made a covenant with the nation of Israel alone; therefore, all other nations and peoples were outsiders. During this Gospel Age God has made a covenant with the Church, through Christ, a special Covenant. The opportunity to make this Covenant of Sacrifice has been open throughout the Gospel Age; and those coming to God through that covenant are said to be Israelites indeed. (Gal. 3:8,16,29; John 1:47)

In this parable Jesus refers, not to Christians, but to Gentiles – the world in general who will be gathered before Messiah’s Throne. “And he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.” It is not a separation of classes, but a separation of individuals. Whoever is tried and demonstrates that he is a goat will go to the left. Whoever proves himself to be a sheep will go to the right. In figurative language the Lord thus designates the place of disfavor on the left and that of favor on the right. The parable shows that these two classes will not be aware of the fact that they are going to the right or to the left. Not until the conclusion of the trial do they find out where they stand.

The whole picture refers to the thousand years of the Messianic Reign, the world’s judgment, the world’s trial. The sole object of that Reign is to prove who of mankind will desire to be God’s sheep, coming into His fold and having His Son as their Shepherd, and who will not come into harmony with Him, but will have a goat-like nature. They will then be rewarded or punished accordingly.

MINISTERING UNTO MILLENNIUM BRETHREN

In what way will the people have an opportunity of ministering to the Lord’s brethren during the Millennial Age? We note that the Apostles were in prison sometimes because of their service to the Lord and were ministered unto; and that some of the Lord’s followers since have been in prison or in need of assistance; but probably not very many have been in prison or hungry or naked. Hence it is difficult to see how this parable could refer to the Church. Now we see the explanation: Throughout the Millennial Age the Messiah will be dealing with the world of mankind, the majority of whom are now in the great prison-house of death.

The Apostle Paul, in speaking of the resurrection, says that the dead shall come forth “every man in his own order” (company or class). They will not all come forth at once. The Church class will come forth first; then the Great Company class; and early in the new order of things will come forth the Ancient Worthies, who will be the earthly representatives of God’s Kingdom. (1 Cor. 15:21-23) As Jesus said to the unbelieving Jews who rejected Him, “Ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 13:28) They will be the human representatives of the Heavenly Kingdom, which will be invisible. Jesus said nothing about them seeing Jesus Himself or His disciples in the Kingdom. He did say, however, “Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more.” (John 14:19)

St. John tells us that the Church shall be like her Lord (1 John 3:2), thus if the world will not see Him, they will not see the Church; for the Church will be spirit beings that cannot be seen. So we have these orders, at least: The Little Flock, the Great Company, the Ancient Worthies, and the world of mankind – “every man in his own order.”

Jesus said, “The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth;” and “they that hear [obey] shall live.” (John 5:25,28-29) As those of the world return from the tomb, we think it will be in answer to prayer, very much the same as did Lazarus. The Lord Jesus, said, “Where have ye laid him?” Then He lifted up His eyes and prayed to the Father, after which He said, “Lazarus, come forth.” (John 11:34,41-44)

We do not understand that in the Millennial Age the people will have power to command the dead to come forth from the tomb, but that our Lord Jesus will have that power. As He prayed for the restoration of Lazarus, not because of any service which Lazarus would do for Him, but because Lazarus was the brother of Martha and Mary, so we conceive that nearly all the world will come forth in answer to the prayers of their brothers, their sisters, their parents, children and friends.

We think that as Restitution progresses during the Millennial Age, the Lord will let the people know of the privilege they might have of cooperating with God, joining with Christ in the work of Restitution. Thus they will pray for the return of their loved ones and will make provision for them. Each will thus be brought forth, preparations being made to assist them when they would come back into life. This whole work of bringing mankind back into life will be God’s work. It will be the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, the work of spirit beings, as God’s agents. But human beings will be permitted to cooperate, through their love for humanity. The “sheep” class of that Age will be those who will have the Lord’s spirit; and as the Lord’s purpose will be to bring people back from death, to teach them and to prepare them for eternal life, all the sheep will feel the same way. This they will do gladly, because they have a love for this work. They will be feeding, clothing and helping those whom they have gotten out of the prison-house of death. Their prayers will go out continually after those in prison. This explains the whole work of the Millennial Age, and shows how all the people will come into harmony with God.

A SELFISH CLASS AND AN UNSELFISH CLASS

There will certainly be some who will not be interested in helping their fellow men, but will be more interested in enjoying the abundant blessings available in the Millennial Age. The sheep class will be busy working, but the goat class will be showing their selfish disposition. God does not purpose that any who are selfish shall have everlasting life. Selfishness came into the world as a result of sin. We were all born selfish, but we have better knowledge now and are beginning to see God’s way. All in true sympathy with God and righteousness will then cultivate love in their hearts.

As the sheep class provides for those already recovered from the prison-house of death, they will ask for others to come back. Those with the sheep-like disposition will not be reluctant to help those not considered worthy or desirable before they died. They will be glad to welcome back all (even those who believed they were going to eternal torment when they died) and introduce them to the blessings they never imagined would come. The sheep class will seek to cooperate with Christ in the work of blessing the world and in the process they will develop a noble, Christ-like character. They will be helping themselves, as well as helping those raised from the dead.

At the close of the Millennial Age the Lord will place on His right hand the sheep class who ministered to His Millennial brethren, saying to them: “Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matt. 25:34) The Kingdom referred to is the earthly paradise originally given to Father Adam (Gen. 1:26-28), but lost through his disobedience. No other class will be given this earthly Kingdom.

The heavenly Kingdom is for those of the Church who have been proven worthy. Those of the world who cultivate the Lord’s spirit will receive the Kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world while the Church will receive the Kingdom prepared from before the foundation of the world. (Eph. 1:4)

EVERLASTING PUNISHMENT OF THE WICKED

There is another part to this parable that we cannot neglect. It reads: “And these [the goat class] shall go away into everlasting punishment.” (Matt. 25:46) We believe in everlasting punishment because we always believe in everything the Bible says. But what kind of punishment it will be is another matter. The Bible says that the punishment will be death, and we believe the Bible. (Rom. 6:23; Ezek. 18:4)

The creeds of the Dark Ages tell us that everlasting death means everlasting dying, endless torture. So when the Bible speaks of everlasting death, some people have their heads so twisted that they make death mean life. There is such a thing as everlasting death. When the goat class are remanded to death, they will become dead everlastingly. They will remain dead to all eternity. The Greek word kolasis, here rendered punishment, is from the root word kolazo, meaning to cut off, or to restrain by cutting off.

God will give men all the opportunities they wish to be selfish, to choose the wrong way. They will have the opportunities and blessings of the Millennial Age, as long as they do not outwardly violate the Law, as long as they do not injure somebody else. They will not be forced to help those returning from the dead, as that work will be one of charity, of love. But unless they attain the spirit of love, they will not be fit for the Kingdom; for God is Love. No one shall attain everlasting life except those who are in accord with God, whether on the spirit plane in the heavenly Kingdom or on the human plane in the everlasting Kingdom of mankind upon the earth. All others will be everlastingly destroyed, cut off, from life: “For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth.” (Psa. 37:9; Acts 3:23; Psa. 101:8; 2 Thes. 1:9)

FIRE A SYMBOL OF DESTRUCTION

Concerning the wicked, our parable says, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matt. 25:41) Fire always symbolizes destruction, and everlasting fire would mean an everlasting destruction. The Devil is the father of lies, “a murderer from the beginning,” the one who “abode not in the truth.” (John 8:44) He has assistants, “the angels which kept not their first estate.” (Jude 6) Instead of remaining holy angels, they became demons, associated under Satan. Their final penalty is to be quite appropriate for them – fire, the fire of God’s anger, the fire of God’s opposition. As fire destroys, so God’s anger will destroy Satan and all in harmony with him. Because the goat class of mankind will manifest the selfish spirit of Satan, contrary to the Divine spirit, they will have their portion with Satan and the fallen spirits and be destroyed in the Second Death. This will cleanse the universe and have everything pure. Not a sinner will be left in it.

Thenceforth all will be governed by love. The Lord Jesus Christ and the Church having been tried; the Great Company will be tried before being received into the Heavenly condition. In the days of Noah all the angels were tried (those who did not maintain their condition of loyalty to God were cast down to tartarus – that is, to our earth’s atmosphere, and there restrained until the judgment day – 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6). So all mankind will be tried during the thousand years of Messiah’s reign, and only the victors will go into the everlasting conditions. No wonder that the Revelator, prophesying of that glorious time, says: “And every creature which is in heaven [the Church, the Great Company, the angels, the cherubim and seraphim], and on the earth, and under the earth [those now in the tomb]…heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.” (Rev. 5:13)

Soon all shall sing Hosannas to our Heavenly King; hail Him Lord of all!

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(Based on a discourse from Pastor Russell’s Sermons, page 224)

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INTO THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW

It is with great sadness that we report the death of our faithful brother in the Truth, William Dallas Dunnagan. He was born on October 28, 1925 and entered into the “sleep in Jesus” on May 31, 2015. As a member of the Mount Dora ecclesia, he spent countless hours in the work of the Bible House, until advancing age made it no longer possible. As a faithful student of the Bible, he always testified of the promises of God – namely the coming Kingdom, the resurrection of the dead, and the times of restitution of all things. The Daily Heavenly Manna book entry for his birth date is most appropriate:

“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me…to comfort all that mourn,…to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning... (Isa. 61:1-3)

“OUR commission is to seek out the meek and the mourning ones, who have appreciated their own shortcomings and weaknesses, and who are looking for refuge and deliverance. It is part of our commission to point them to the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world, to point them to the beauty of the resurrection for the ashes of death, and the glories which the Lord has promised by and by to take the place of the spirit of heaviness and disappointment and sorrow and trouble of this present time. It is our commission to tell such that ‘Joy cometh in the morning,’ and to assist them to arise and at once put on the garments of praise, and to begin to walk in newness of life, with a ‘new song in their mouths – even the lovingkindness of our God.’ Z. '04-295 R3436:1”

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