Matthew 24:30 (ESV), a part of the Olivet Discourse, reads:

Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

A key phrase here in understanding what this passage refers to is "all the tribes of the earth." The word earth (gēs) here (see interlinear) has been argued by some, particularly preterists like J. Stuart Russell, to be better translated land, making the phrase refer only to the twelve Jewish tribes in Judea. Russell argues that context (particularly 24:15–16) demands this, that such a use is not foreign to the New Testament, and that Zechariah 12:12 is an example of this usage.

However, I don't think this is a common understanding of the text. For example, Calvin rejects (as would, I image, modern eschatological futurists) the idea that this passage refers to the AD 70 fall of Jerusalem, which suggests to me that futurists might have difficulty seeing this word as referring only to Judea. Thus, my question: what are the relative strengths of the possible interpretations of gēs in this passage? Is land, earth, or some other option preferable? Most importantly, why?

Inspired by How can the “Son of Man” passages of Matthew 24 be interpreted as a fulfilled prophecy?

  • Look, I love Calvin as a thinker, but his theology is very dismissive of connecting historical Israel and the church in any literal way. So regardless of language, I'm not surprised Calvin rejects that this could refer to the 12 tribes like Zech. 12. Wouldn't let him deter you. I'm a nondispensational futurist and have no issue with either meaning, land or earth.
    – Joshua
    Nov 4, 2015 at 18:32
  • @JoshuaBigbee Thanks for the feedback. I've rewritten that part of the question; I realize I was misrepresenting the Calvin quote that I have. Basically, I'm thinking that if this is to be interpreted as futurist prophecy, and land is acceptable here, then all I'd have to do to avoid the Tribulation is stay out of Judea. That's why I think the land view is probably not universally held. Nov 4, 2015 at 19:02
  • well to be fully open with you, I think this has a sort of double fulfillment. I don't think they are necessarily mourning the tribulation, they are mourning their own condition upon his second coming. So whether it is earth or land has no impact on the tribulation in my view. It has to do with who the target of the prophecy is and how that effects the possible timing of the second coming. If it IS land, you have to then look at how land is often used to talk about the people in the land. So again, it's not geography, it's who.
    – Joshua
    Nov 4, 2015 at 19:58

4 Answers 4


Stuart bases his claim that Matthew 24:30 refers specifically to the land of Judea and not something wider on two premises:

(a) There is nothing in the text to indicate that a different topic has been introduced from what was being discussed in the prior passage

and (b) the word γῆ ("earth" or "land") is connected with φυλαὶ ("tribes") in the Gospel text:

I'm not sure this is a completely sound argument. Verse 30 begins "and then", not "and then immediately". And the phrase in Zechariah seems to be more like "And the land shall mourn, every family apart ..." (MT) or "And the land shall lament in separate families ..." (LXX).

Nonetheless, Stuart's interpretation has support in the commentaries of some, but not all, Church Fathers. John Chrysostom believes that the verse relates specifically to the Jews:

"Then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in Heaven;” that is, the cross being brighter than the sun, since this last will be darkened, and hide himself, and that will appear when it would not appear, unless it were far brighter than the beams of the sun. But wherefore doth the sign appear? In order that the shamelessness of the Jews may be more abundantly silenced. For having the cross as the greatest plea, Christ thus cometh to that judgment-seat, showing not His wounds only, but also the death of reproach. “Then shall the tribes mourn,” for there shall be no need of an accusation, when they see the cross; and they shall mourn, that by His death they are nothing benefited; because they crucified Him whom they ought to have adored.

Homily LXXVI on the Gospel According to Matthew

Theophylact echoes the same view in his later commentary on the same verse.

Others, however, including Cyprian (On the Exhortation to Martyrdom) and Augustin (On the Psalms) seem to think that it refers to the more general population.



The “earth” (gēs) in Matthew 24:30 speaks of “all of the earth” but not in a literal, geographic way but instead speaks of the focus of the mind or heart of those who will hear the Son of man speaking from Heaven (as He opens up the Scriptures to our minds via the Spirit from Heaven) in this coming time.

Matthew 24:30 KJV (30) And 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.

Some will hear the voice of the Son of man in Heaven and will deaden their members which are “upon the earth” which are currently bogged down in earthly wisdom: behaving in wrath, envy, strife, fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection. They will put to death those evil things within their own hearts (envy and strife) when they hear the voice of the Son.

Some will overcome these things which are upon the “earth”….of the earthly wisdom that is from below….and will instead redirect their focus on those things which are of the wisdom from above …from Heaven (peacefulness, gentleness, love, patience, kindness etc).

Those who will overcome will put on Christ at the hearing of the voice of the Son and will be able to rejoice in what they hear Him saying. They will hear His voice and come forth and do good towards what they hear.

Colossians 3:5-6 KJV (5) Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: (6) For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience:

They will put off all evil things (the “earthly things”) out of their heart as well as their mouth: the anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication.

Colossians 3:8 KJV (8) But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.

There is wisdom from above and wisdom from below (earthly).

The wisdom that is from below is earthly, sensual, devilish and those who dwell “upon the earth” dwell in these things as their minds and hearts are only after them and they will not overcome.

They “dwell” upon envy, strife, wrath, contentions, etc. They take pleasure in their unrighteousness. Their joy will turn to mourning (worldly sorrow) towards what they hear. They will not mourn with a godly sorrow unto repentance but will mourn a worldly sorrow of what they hear unto death.

They will hear His voice in this coming time and will behave according to the “earthly” wisdom and not according to the heavenly wisdom. They will be found “dwelling upon the earth” as they will not overcome and be found dwelling as a “citizen” of Heaven in their behavior. They will not enter in to understand.

James 3:13-18 KJV (13) Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. (14) But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. (15) This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. (16) For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. (17) But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. (18) And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

We are to seek those things which are above where Christ sits on the right hand of God and not be found setting our affection on things on the “earth”….the earthly wisdom.

Colossians 3:1-2 KJV (1) If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. (2) Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.

We must put on Christ who is from above and not of this world (as the world behaves according to its earthly wisdom in envy, strife, wrath, etc).

John 8:23 KJV (23) And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world.

Where your treasure is, there also will be your heart….whether it be “upon the earth” or in Heaven above.

If we lay up treasures upon the earth, the thieves (the false prophets) will break through and steal. They will be able to deceive us with their speaking of great swelling words of vanity as they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness in the earthly wisdom.

Matthew 6:19-21 KJV (19) Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: (20) But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: (21) For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

The false prophets have rejoiced in this time in the tribulation of the church as they have divided us and have enriched themselves in this evil time of disunion, envy, strife, hatred of one another.

But their time of rejoicing is coming to an end as the Lord comes to let the “prisoners” go out of their grasp.

The Son of God comes to open up the Scriptures to our minds so that we may understand. He comes to give us an understanding so that we may show that we know Him by how we receive His words of knowledge. Some will hear the voice of the Son and come forth and do good while others will be found doing evil.

1 John 5:19-21 KJV (19) And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness. (20) And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life. (21) Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.

The believers will rejoice while the unbelievers will not.

ALL of the “tribes of the earth” will mourn a worldly sorrow of what they hear and they will see the believers receiving His words with rejoicing which causes them to grieve even more.

The rejoicing of those who “dwell on the earth” shall be turned to mourning. This mourning is not after a godly manner but of the mourning/sorrow of the world that works death as they will speak evil of what they hear and of those who will receive His words in this coming time.

2 Corinthians 7:9-10 KJV (9) Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. (10) For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.

The “rulers” …the false prophets…who once rejoiced in this time of the tribulation of the church will have their joy turn to deep gloom.

Their “sun” shall be darkened as their joy turns to mourning. All the tribes of the earth shall mourn….a worldly sorrow that works death. It will not be a Day of rejoicing for them as their joy will go dark.

Matthew 24:29 KJV (29) Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:

His servants will hear and rejoice while they who once rejoiced in the time of the tribulation of the church will cry for sorrow of heart and will howl for vexation of spirit.

Isaiah 65:13-14 KJV (13) Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, my servants shall eat, but ye shall be hungry: behold, my servants shall drink, but ye shall be thirsty: behold, my servants shall rejoice, but ye shall be ashamed: (14) Behold, my servants shall sing for joy of heart, but ye shall cry for sorrow of heart, and shall howl for vexation of spirit.


Jesus told a parable that absolutely rejects the notion that the events he predicts can be split across millennia:

[Luk 21:1-38 NLT] (1) While Jesus was in the Temple, he watched the rich people dropping their gifts in the collection box. (2) Then a poor widow came by and dropped in two small coins. (3) "I tell you the truth," Jesus said, "this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. (4) For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has." (5) Some of his disciples began talking about the majestic stonework of the Temple and the memorial decorations on the walls. But Jesus said, (6) "The time is coming when all these things will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!" (7) "Teacher," they asked, "when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to take place?" (8) He replied, "Don't let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Messiah,' and saying, 'The time has come!' But don't believe them. (9) And when you hear of wars and insurrections, don't panic. Yes, these things must take place first, but the end won't follow immediately." (10) Then he added, "Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. (11) There will be great earthquakes, and there will be famines and plagues in many lands, and there will be terrifying things and great miraculous signs from heaven. (12) "But before all this occurs, there will be a time of great persecution. You will be dragged into synagogues and prisons, and you will stand trial before kings and governors because you are my followers. (13) But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me. (14) So don't worry in advance about how to answer the charges against you, (15) for I will give you the right words and such wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to reply or refute you! (16) Even those closest to you--your parents, brothers, relatives, and friends--will betray you. They will even kill some of you. (17) And everyone will hate you because you are my followers. (18) But not a hair of your head will perish! (19) By standing firm, you will win your souls. (20) "And when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you will know that the time of its destruction has arrived. (21) Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. Those in Jerusalem must get out, and those out in the country should not return to the city. (22) For those will be days of God's vengeance, and the prophetic words of the Scriptures will be fulfilled. (23) How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. For there will be disaster in the land and great anger against this people. (24) They will be killed by the sword or sent away as captives to all the nations of the world. And Jerusalem will be trampled down by the Gentiles until the period of the Gentiles comes to an end. (25) "And there will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides. (26) People will be terrified at what they see coming upon the earth, for the powers in the heavens will be shaken. (27) Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory. (28) So when all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near!" (29) Then he gave them this illustration: "Notice the fig tree, or any other tree. (30) When the leaves come out, you know without being told that summer is near. (31) In the same way, when you see all these things taking place, you can know that the Kingdom of God is near. (32) I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene until all these things have taken place. (33) Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear. (34) "Watch out! Don't let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don't let that day catch you unaware, (35) like a trap. For that day will come upon everyone living on the earth. (36) Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man." (37) Every day Jesus went to the Temple to teach, and each evening he returned to spend the night on the Mount of Olives. (38) The crowds gathered at the Temple early each morning to hear him.

No trees in their neighborhood at least put out their leaves in the spring and then don't put forth their fruit until thousands of years later. It is special pleading.


Matthew 6:9-10

In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

In this verse, Jesus identifies Heaven as the realm (kingdom) in which his Father dwells and where its citizens esteem His name and do His will, as distinct from the Earth (gēs), a separate realm to which the Father's kingdom has yet to come, and thus a place where His name in not esteemed and His will is not done.

What, then, is this realm of Earth (gēs) that Jesus is speaking of?

Genesis 1

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void;
And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth;

The Earth (Hebrew: 'erets - Strong's H127; LXX: γη,γην,γης) emerged from the void as the dry ground from which man was formed, and, judging by the contexts in which 'erets is variously translated (land: 1,543x, earth: 712x, country:140x, ground: 98x), it would be inclusive of any place on which the sole of his foot might tread.

This notion is supported by Paul's declaration on Mars' hill (Acts 17:26), that God (emphasis mine):

... hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth;

Also, Paul's reference here to "all nations of men" is clearly to be understood in the same way as "tribes of the Earth" given in Matthew 24:30


The Earth (gēs) is not a particular location, but refers to "any place on which the sole of man's foot might tread"


Regarding a counter-argument to the idea that gēs refers only to the land of Judea, I can see many problems. Take, for instance, Paul's address on Mars' Hill, referred in the body of my answer, above. In Acts 17:24-26, Paul says:

God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;

Russell's idea just doesn't work, here.

  • How weighty an argument would Paul have thought he was making by suggesting that God was the creator of the Cosmos (world), i.e. everything there is: earth, sun, moon, stars; because he is Lord of heaven and the LAND (of Judea)?

    Paul's point to these men was, "My God made everything that YOU know of, because he is Lord of heaven (the realm of celestial bodies where YOU believe the gods live), and the earth (where YOU live)." Of course Paul understood that the extent of Yahweh's realm was even greater.

  • Again, how weighty an argument would Paul have thought he was making by suggesting that God made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the LAND (of Judea)?

    Mars' hill is in Athens. If Paul had imagined that gēs only referred to the LAND (of Judea), then he was putting forward an argument that God had made of one blood - the members of his own family??? No, Paul was including the men he was talking to, as his brothers, sons of Adam, and as much as Yahweh was Paul's God, He was also theirs.

Russell's idea doesn't require too many examples to refute. Let's try one other. From Acts again, but this time Jesus is speaking. Acts 1:6-8 records:

When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?

And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.

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Map source: Enter the Bible - Luther Seminary

Russell's argument is about geography. If gēs refers only to the LAND (of Judea), then how does Samaria figure into the equation? But more to the point, how does his idea figure into the obvious intent of Jesus' statement that "geographically" the Earth extended beyond these two regions, i.e. to Perea, Idumea, The Decapolis, and to its uttermost ends, i.e. to any place on which the sole of man's foot might tread?

  • 1
    This is a solid argument, as far as I can tell, but it doesn't deal with the counterargument I included in the question body. Why is this argument stronger than J. Stuart Russel's? Nov 14, 2015 at 13:09
  • My answer addresses your question regarding the meaning of gēs. As far as Russell's argument that gēs refers only to Judea, how do you reconcile his idea with Jesus words in Acts 1:8?
    – enegue
    Nov 14, 2015 at 14:34
  • Thanks; this is much better. Russell says that gēs is commonly used in its narrow sense in the NT (though he doesn't provide examples), and says that Zech. 12:12 is another example of this. To really knock this out of the park, I want to see an answer that either refutes Russell's assertion that gēs is commonly used narrowly, or demonstrate that the other narrow uses of gēs in the NT are inherently different from this one in Matthew 24. I'm not convinced by your answer, because I suspect that other narrow uses of this word exist in the NT, and I wonder if they might be applicable. Nov 16, 2015 at 3:04

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