A friend of mine recently raised the question, "If Matthew 24 isn't talking about a "rapture", what is it speaking of?" Here are a few of my humble thoughts.
Let me begin by saying that I agree with Matthew Henry who held that Matthew 24 was speaking directly of the fall of the Temple and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, yet was a shadow and type of the end of the entire world. Verses 1-2 are self-explanatory, vs. 3-26 also took place in very real fashion between 40-70 AD, as is well documented in many historical and religious writings. Between the fierce persecution of the Christians from both Jews and Romans, and the heresies that were running rampant as we see from the majority of the epistles, we cannot deny that there was both fierce tribulation and false christs occurring during this time.Of verse 27 where Jesus speaks of the coming of the Son of Man, John Gill writes
"which must be understood not of his last coming to judgment, though that will be sudden, visible, and universal; he will at once come to, and be seen by all, in the clouds of heaven, and not in deserts and secret chambers: nor of his spiritual coming in the more sudden, and clear, and powerful preaching of the Gospel all over the Gentile world; for this was to be done before the destruction of Jerusalem: but of his coming in his wrath and vengeance to destroy that people, their nation, city, and temple: so that after this to look for the Messiah in a desert, or secret chamber, must argue great stupidity and blindness; when his coming was as sudden, visible, powerful, and general, to the destruction of that nation, as the lightning that comes from the east, and, in a moment, shines to the west."
Verse 28 makes an obvious reference to the Roman army (whose symbol was the eagle) encamped around Jerusalem. History reports that the banners bearing the image of an eagle were carried by each band of soldiers and were dotted all around Jerusalem during the siege. Verse 29 is also interpreted by Gill in a very figurative sense, which would seem quite plausible since verse 30 refers to "the sign of the Son of Man".
Verse 31, is actually one of the easier verses to understand under this understanding or interpretation of this chapter. It is universally accepted that the angels mentioned in the beginning of Revelation are pastors or preachers. If we read the word angels here with the same interpretation, we already know that the fall of Jerusalem shot christians into every corner of the world preaching the gospel with the noise and clarity of a trumpeter. Vs. 34 is the hinge on which this thesis turns, Jesus said it would happen within that generation or roughly within that 40-50 years. Vs. 40-41 are then understood as speaking of the stories where there were many who escaped both through miraculous as well as "natural" means, even when everyone else in their city was massacred.
Let me close with this, I don't do intense studying on the "end times" (though I do believe the Lord will return one day to judge the quick and the dead) for the same reason the reformers and Puritans didn't. I have enough studying to do on all those things that relate to life and godliness, that I don't need to know how it will all end. Regardless of what happens, my responsibilities as a christian here on earth never change. So why spend my time trying to figure out something that teases the edges of my imaginations, but has no practical relevance, when I can be studying those things which sanctify, wash, and grow me to make me more like Christ. So when I do see my Redeemer face to face I will be presented as a pure and spotless bride, I may not know everything about the wedding day, but I want to know everything about the Groom!