Is Jesus implying that his 2nd coming will be a literal worldwide event as in the days of Noah? Matthew 24:36-44
My post on this subject may not be the popular one. It is definitely not easy to understand; I suspect most who read it will walk away scratching their heads because it will require some amount of reflection on the distinction between time and timelessness.
[Note: If one has a superficial understanding of General Relativity, it might be helpful, but it is certainly not required. Nonetheless, the spirit has no mass — just something to think about.]
First, the OP is absolutely correct to ask the question in terms of Matthew 24:36-44 because it is here that Christ answers the last of 3 questions:
Matthew 24:3: "[Christ's] disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, (1) when will these things [Temple stones be "thrown down"] happen, and (2) what will be the sign of Your coming, and of (3) the end of the age?”
Here is that question, paraphrased, along with Christ's response: "Tell us when the end of the age [will come]". This is the one in view by the OP. It is a question regarding Christ's answer to when the end of time will occur. This is the question that Christ answers throughout Matthew 24:36-44. Recall how He responds:
Matthew 24:36-41: “But of that day and hour [Christ's return] no one knows [there will be no warnings], not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. 37For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be."
What is He telling everyone who reads this? 1) That Christ's return will be unanticipated! No one will expect a thing; there are to be no signs:
Matthew 24:44: “[You] must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will"
And, 2) there is a very specific "day and hour" that it will occur. It will not be something that occurs over the course of a week! And, precisely what will happen in that "day and hour"?
2 Peter 3:10: "But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up."
We should understand that words have meaning. And, everyone who has read these passages for the past 2,000 years has expected Christ's return. So, why didn't they see it? Why has this apparently never occurred to billions of people who have anxiously waited for the Lord?
In fact, the Lord's return is the greatest promise of the New Testament (other than eternal life for the saints). Here are some of the verses I have compiled regarding Christ's reappearance:
With this in mind, we need to ask ourselves a question: What event in the life of every human being comes to them as a "thief in the night"? What is the single unexpected occurrence that every person must face at some point — without exception?
I suggest there is really only one answer: physical death — the moment we transcend our lives in the flesh to meet God. For the purposes of illustration, suppose we consider an aged, devout saint named Tom. He has been in the hospital for weeks with a terminal illness. Finally, the "last day" arrives and he expires from his affliction. Has Tom not just departed this finite, material world of time to enter God's realm of timelessness?
And, because it is timeless, no time elapses from Tom's perspective: everything occurs at once because time as we now recognize it ceases to exist for him. While Tom may, or may not realize this, he is making his journey to the end of time (though this takes mere seconds as far as Tom is concerned). While he does so, dozens or hundreds of years of history are elapsing on earth.
Here, suppose we reflect on another passage by Christ:
John 6:40: “[Everyone] who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (emphasis added).
From Tom's perspective, is not this "last day" his last day, just as it is with all of us?
Many will immediately claim that Tom "waits" in the grave" for 5 years, or 5 centuries — before he is awakened from death by Christ. But this concept is fundamentally contrary to Christ's explicit declaration:
John 8:51; 11:26: 51“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he will never see death.” 11:26[Everyone] who lives and believes in Me will never die" (emphasis added).
What?! How can these statements be true? Isn't Tom dead in that grave? Yes, Tom's dead body is certainly in that grave. But where is Tom's spirit — his consciousness, his being? Well, from Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians, we know that:
2 Corinthians 4:16: "[Though] our outer man is decaying [and will die], yet our inner man [our spirit] is being renewed day by day."
From this passage, we should understand that, spiritually, our "inner man/woman" is becoming stronger by the day. The spirit does not die and it does not sleep. That is why there is no "night" in heaven but only a single, eternal day! No one will sleep in the paradise of God. Only the physical body sleeps, or dies. Tom's spirit is perfectly alive, traversing the threshold between finite time and eternity.
And, that is the point that Christ is making. The only way His words make any sense is that saints never consciously experience death. (I do not believe this is true for the lost, but that is another discussion.)
Christ repeatedly tells us that He will never set foot again on earth — rather, He will return with the clouds of heaven (Matt. 26:64, Mk. 14:62, Acts 1:11, 1 Thess. 4:17, Rev. 1:7, etc.). Here is just one of the passages that emphatically attests to this fact:
Mark 14:62: “'I am [the Christ],' said Jesus. 'And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
As I have done before (despite the cost), I will again embed 5 figures below that depict this series of events:
Let us examine a few passages that describe this moment explicitly:
1 Thessalonians 4:17: “Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”
How does the illustration above not depict this very occurrence? The verse is telling us that all saints will be caught up together to meet Christ in the air. The words simply could not be clearer. Those faithful who have perished are already making their journey out of time to meet the Lord in the air ("clouds of heaven").
So, did Christ never return to any of the people dating back to the first century, just as He promised?
John 14:3: “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also."
Christ's "return" is the moment we transcend this world to instantly join Him in paradise.
Everyone who is saved will meet the Lord in the air at the same time exactly as we're told. What this means is that Christ doesn't return to us; we step into His eternal Presence with the Father! It would be very easy to quote dozens of passages (many that I've embedded above) that speak to this fact.
Note this too: everyone will both see and hear the trumpet of God, and they will do so the moment they are transformed from this finite world of sin and death. Since we will have entered a timeless realm, there is NO waiting. Everything happens in the twinkling of an eye:
1 Corinthians 15:51-53: "Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality." (emphasis added).
Here is something very significant. During the days of Joshua, after Israel had crossed the Jordan — the river of death — they were soon to conquer Jericho. As they did this, they were to shout and blow their trumpets on the 7th day. Upon the last trumpet God had given them the city.
This is symbolic of our physical death (crossing Jordan), and being given the new city: the New Jerusalem of heaven! We, therefore, might think of the last trumpet as the our last breath of life as we enter Christ in paradise! (Yes, there will undoubtedly be a loud trumpet at that same time.)
Every eye will see it, that is, all the faithful throughout history.
Naturally, for we who remain on Earth, time continues to forge ahead. However, for the faithful, like Tom, who have departed this world, there is no longer any passage of time — an irresistible consequence of timelessness. Again, although these conditions represent a future event to us, no saved soul will exist as a disembodied spirit without physical form. One might conceptualize the proposed circumstances this way: our individual death and Christ’s return are essentially synonymous.
In response to the OP, Christ is definitely telling us His 2nd coming will be a literal event, exactly as described in Matthew 24:36-44.