When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?
Starting with the words recorded at Matthew 24:29, Jesus focused primarily on events that would happen in our day. Speaking about what will happen during the great tribulation, he said that people “will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then, in words meant for those living during the last days, he urged vigilance, saying: “You do not know on what day your Lord is coming” and, “At an hour that you do not think to be it, the Son of man is coming.” In this context—when speaking about events that would take place in the last days—Jesus related the illustration of the faithful slave. Therefore, we may conclude that his words about that faithful slave began to be fulfilled only after the last days began in 1914. Such a conclusion makes sense.
The majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses undoubtedly accept whatever the Watchtower says without reservation. And that is understandable given the fact that anyone who may raise the slightest question about the veracity of the timely spiritual food presented by the “faithful and discreet slave” most certainly would bring themselves under judgment by their local elders at some point. Who needs that?
But a tiny percentage of Jehovah’s Witnesses on the fringe do discreetly question the Watchtower’s teaching — especially on matters related to prophecy. Still, there may be some confusion. After all, the Watchtower speaks with authority and the leadership certainly exudes an air of confidence. And let’s face it, things having to do with prophecy are not easy to understand.
That being said, the question is: Is the coming of Christ on the clouds of heaven (vs 30) the same coming of Christ “at an hour you do not think to be it”? And to be sure, this is what the Watchtower is implying.
First, consider the theme scripture: “When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?”
The apostles wanted to know when Jesus was coming to commence the conclusion of the system, during which would also occur his foretold parousia. So, Jesus answered them accordingly. He foretold that nations and kingdoms would rise against each other, with food shortages, earthquakes and pandemics. Those things would mark the beginning pangs of distress.
Then, the great tribulation will follow. It is then, after the tribulation is cut short, when all the tribes of earth will beat themselves in lamentation when the sign of the Son of man appears in heaven and “they see him coming upon the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”
Now, here is the question to consider: Is it possible that Jesus’ coming on the clouds of heaven, which comes after the catastrophic events occur betokened by the symbolic darkness of the sun, moon and stars —when men will be absolutely faint with fright in anticipation of all the things coming upon the world — could be the same “coming” at an hour his disciples think not likely? How could it be? If even the terrified unbelievers will be in dread of the coming of divine judgment, how is it that the chosen ones could be so oblivious?
Furthermore, before the nations see the Son of man coming upon the clouds of heaven Jesus foretold that his true disciples would be gathered to him, as eagles to a carcass. Jesus said in verses 27-28: “Therefore, if people say to you, ‘Look! He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out; ‘Look! He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For just as the lightning comes out of the east and shines over to the west, so the presence of the Son of man will be. Wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.”
The simple truth that alludes Jehovah’s Witnesses is that the coming of Christ at a time his disciples think not to be it has to do with his coming to initiate the parousia.
That is what Jesus went on to explain in verses 36-44, which read: “Concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father. For just as the days of Noah were, so the presence of the Son of man will be. For as they were in those days before the Flood, eating and drinking, men marrying and women being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and they took no note until the Flood came and swept them all away, so the presence of the Son of man will be.
Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken along and the other abandoned. Two women will be grinding at the hand mill; one will be taken along and the other abandoned. Keep on the watch, therefore, because you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know one thing: If the householder had known in what watch the thief was coming, he would have kept awake and not allowed his house to be broken into. On this account, you too prove yourselves ready, because the Son of man is coming at an hour that you do not think to be it.”
What did Jesus liken to the days of Noah? Was it the tribulation? No. He said “so the presence of the Son of man will be.” The days before the Flood, when people were eating and drinking, marrying, etc., is compared to the days now, before the presence of the Son of Man. Besides, that, were the people who took no note swept away on the very day Noah entered into the ark? Again, no. The Flood did not commence for a whole week after Noah and all his menagerie went into the ark. However, the day Noah went into the ark the door was shut. No one could hope to gain entry after the door was shut. And that is what characterizes the presence of the Son of man.
That is evident from Jesus’ illustration regarding the two men in the field and two women grinding at the mill. One was taken along, the other abandoned. In other words, their fate was sealed at that point.
And since Jesus was speaking to his disciples who would be living prior to his coming and his message focuses primarily on the gathering of the chosen ones, it is apparent that those who are either taken or abandoned are his own disciples. Hence, the importance of staying on the watch for the coming of your Lord.
Reasoning on the matter further, as stated already, the coming of Christ on the clouds of heaven takes place “after the tribulation in those days.” But how likely is it that men will be eating and drinking in a business-as-usual fashion during the great tribulation, prior to his coming on the clouds? Not likely at all.
What is the significance of the Watchtower’s error in this matter?
Obviously, since Jehovah’s Witnesses have been deluded into believing the parousia is an accomplished fact and that there cannot possibly be another world war or any other significant events associated with the Apocalypse, the coming of Christ at a time Jehovah’s Witnesses think unlikely is inevitable.