Okay, this one gets a little confusing, so bear with me. Let’s start by reading Matthew 24:23-28, and when you do, ask yourself when are these words fulfilled?
(Matthew 24:23-28) “Then if anyone says to YOU, ‘Look! Here is the Christ,’ or, ‘There!’ do not believe it. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will give great signs and wonders so as to mislead, if possible, even the chosen ones. 25 Look! I have forewarned YOU. 26 Therefore, if people say to YOU, ‘Look! He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out; ‘Look! He is in the inner chambers,’ do not believe it. 27 For just as the lightning comes out of eastern parts and shines over to western parts, so the presence of the Son of man will be. Wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.28
Given that these prophetic words of Jesus occur as part of the great prophecy that signs not only his presence but the conclusion of this system of things, one would likely conclude that these words are fulfilled during the last days. One might even put forward Matthew 24:34 as additional proof of that conclusion. That verse states that a single generation will not pass away before “all these things” occur. “All these things” refers to everything he prophesied would take place in Mt. 24:3 to 31. One might even point to Mark 13:29 and Luke 21:31 as additional proof that all these things, including the things mentioned at Matthew 24:23-28, would occur at a time when Jesus is near at the doors; hence, the last days.
Therefore, gentle reader, it is likely going to come as a surprise to learn that our official interpretation puts the fulfillment of these verses during a time period that starts in 70 CE and ends in 1914. Why would we come to a conclusion that seems so at odds with everything the Bible has to say on the subject? Simply put, it is because we are stuck with 1914 as the start of Christ’s presence. Since we accept that year as a given, we are forced to find an explanation that squeezes Matthew 24:23-28 into that framework. This appears to be yet another example of a prophetic round peg forced into an interpretive square hole.
The problem for us is that verse 27 makes reference to “the presence of the Son of Man”. Since verses 23 to 26 give signs that precede the presence of the Son of Man, and since we say the presence of the Son of Man occurs at the very start of the last days, we’re forced to extract the six verses from these prophecy from the prophecy of the last days and apply them to a time period starting almost two millenia earlier. Our problems don’t end there either. Since these verses are undeniably part of the last days prophecy, they must also apply after 1914. Hence, we are left with the following nonsensical contradiction: How can verses 23 to 26 indicate that the presence of the Son of Man has not yet arrived and yet also be part of a prophecy that indicates that it has arrived?
This is probably a good time to reference our official understanding of these verses.
AFTER THE TRIBULATION ON JERUSALEM
14 What is recorded in Matthew chapter 24, verses 23 through 28, touches on developments from and after 70 C.E. and on into the days of Christ’s invisible presence (parousia). The warning against “false Christs” is not simply a repetition of verses 4 and 5. The later verses are describing a longer time period—a time when such men as the Jewish Bar Kokhba led a revolt against the Roman oppressors in 131-135 C.E., or when the much later leader of the Bahai religion claimed to be Christ returned, and when the leader of the Doukhobors in Canada professed to be Christ the Savior. But, here in his prophecy, Jesus had warned his followers not to be misled by the claims of human pretenders.
15 He told his disciples that his presence would not be simply a local affair, but, since he would be an invisible King directing his attention to earth from the heavens, his presence would be like the lightning that “comes out of eastern parts and shines over to western parts.” So, he urged them to be farsighted like the eagles, and to appreciate that true spiritual food would be found only with Jesus Christ, to whom they should gather as the true Messiah at his invisible presence, which would be in effect from 1914 onward.—Matt. 24:23-28; Mark 13:21-23; see God’s Kingdom of a Thousand Years Has Approached,pages 320-323. (w75 5/1 p. 275 Why We Have Not Been Told “That Day and Hour”)
If you also read the reference to God’s Kingdom Of a Thousand Years Has Approached cited above, but continue on from par. 66, you will see that we also used to apply parts of Mt. 24:29-31 as starting in 1914. We now apply those verses to our future. In fact, our current understanding of Matthew 24 places everything Jesus prophesied into a chronological order, except for verses 23 to 28. If we disregard our official interpretation of those verses and assume that they also fall into a chronological order as indicated by the introductory “then” of verse 23, we can draw some interesting conclusions. However let’s come back to that later.
We cite as historical proof of our current understanding such individuals as the Jewish Bar Kokhba of 131-135 CE, the leader of the Bahai religion, and the leader of the Doukhobors in Canada. (They were the ones that liked to get naked.) However, we give no heed to a key element in this prophecy. Jesus said that such false Christ’s and prophets would perform “great signs and wonders”. What great signs or wonders did any of these men perform? According to Jesus, these signs and wonders would be so impressive as to potentially mislead even the chosen ones. Yet, there seems to be no evidence that this part of the prophecy has ever been fulfilled.
Of course, as we’ve seen already in other posts in this forum, there is no solid evidence that supports the idea of 1914 as the beginning of Christ’s invisible presence. In fact, since we now view the sign of the Son of Man as a literal and physical manifestation of Jesus presence, one visible in the heavens to all people, much like the lightning referred to in verse 27 is visible to all humankind, it would appear that the presence to which he is referring isn’t some invisible enthronement but a highly visible and provable reality. He warns against those who would deceive us into thinking that he (Jesus) is hidden away in some inner chamber, or sequestered at some remote location in the wilderness. In other words, that he is invisible to the general populous. He indicates that his presence would be plainly visible. We do not need to depend on the interpretation of men to discern his presence any more than we depend on the interpretation of man to tell us that lightning is flashing from the Eastern parts the Western parts. We can see it for ourselves.
If we ignore 1914 entirely and just take these verses at face value, are we not left with an inescapable conclusion? Immediately after the great tribulation – the destruction of Babylon the great – there will be a period of time when men will come forward as false Christ’s and prophets to perform great signs and wonders, potentially to mislead even Jehovah’s chosen ones. That tribulation will be like nothing we’ve ever experienced and will test our faith to limit. Following the demise of all religion, there will be a spiritual vacuum in the world. People will be roaming about for answers to what will be seen as an unprecedented crisis in human history. They will be godless in the fullest sense of the word. In such an environment, and with his chief weapon against Jehovah’s people in tatters, is it not probable that Satan would use his superhuman powers manifested through human agents to perform great signs and wonders. If our faith has been shaken in the centralized authority of Jehovah’s organization, we might succumb to such deceit. Hence Jesus warning. Shortly after that, his presence, his true presence as the Messianic king, will be evident for all to see. We just have to see where the eagles are and gather ourselves to them.
Of course, this is but one interpretation. Perhaps verses 23 to 28 do not fall into chronological order. Perhaps their fulfillment occurs throughout the last days. If that is the case, then we’ll have to find some evidence that proves Jesus’ words came true with regard to the performing of great signs and wonders. Whether these verses are being fulfilled now or are yet to be fulfilled, one thing is clear: Applying the fulfillment of these verses to the time period covered by the last days does not require us to jump through any interpretive hoops. This application is simple and consistent with the rest of Scripture. Of course, it does require us to abandon 1914 as prophetically significant. It does require us to view the presence of the Son of Man as a yet-future event. However, if you have already read the other posts in this forum you have likely come to the conclusion that there are many awkward interpretations we are burdened with that can be easily resolved and more important, made to harmonized with the rest of scripture, by simply abandoning 1914 and concluding that Christ’s presence is still in our future.