30 "And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory.
31 "And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other."
I don't have any intention to bring up the whole pre-, mid-, or post-tribulation rapture issue all the time, but since this blog employs the verse-by-verse study method, and the part of Matthew we've been in lately talks about End Times events a lot, this topic has been coming up a lot. But there's also plenty we can talk about regarding this passage that doesn't depend on our individual views of when the rapture will happen. :-) So I'll briefly address that first, then move on to other topics.
One of the passages most commonly used in support of the pre-trib view is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. And yet, the return of Christ described in that passage seems to exactly mirror what is referenced here in Matthew (the sound of the trumpet, meeting in the sky, etc.), which is directly identified as happening after the Tribulation.
Additionally, consider that the entirety of Matthew 24 so far has traced out, in detail, the events of the End Times. If there were a pre-tribulation rapture, I would personally assume that Jesus would have mentioned it in His timetable.
The insane astronomical events and bending of physics mentioned in this passage get me really excited. I suppose I enjoy the idea of God displaying how powerful He is that undeniably. And it marks the massive transition to a new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:1).
Not only will these events make it clear to every human that there is a God, but His sign in the sky will make it clear that He is God...and most will realize with terror that they have not been serving Him. I'm not going to engage in speculation about what this sign might look like or how it might take place, but its no-denying-it nature is important to realize - it is the end.
But for the saved, the new heaven and new earth and Christ's glorious return mark the end of persecution and suffering, and the beginning of utter paradise and ruling with Christ (Revelation 21-22).
Many believers often wonder how much longer God will put up with this world before He ushers in the end, given how messed up this world is. But we must remember that this only evidences His astounding mercy toward humanity - He is giving people still more time to repent. 2 Peter 3:9: "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance."
Taking that a step further, those who are aware of the rampant persecution of the Church sometimes wonder how long God will endure His children being slaughtered before bringing about the end. But I recently heard Francis Chan (in a different context than persecution) succinctly summarize a key theological truth - God's grace to us is not just forgiving us, but rather His grace to us is making us more like Him. Persecution is one of the many trials that serve to make believers more like Christ, so it is not as if putting off the End Times grants mercy to unbelievers but not believers - it's grace to both categories, in two different ways.
Normally I might find it hard to derive an easy application from this passage, but since it's New Year's Day, one comes to mind easily.
At the beginning of the year, many people make resolutions or goals that are clearly defined, perfect for marking off a checklist, controllable, and life-on-this-earth-centric. But I would encourage you to not get so wrapped up in all these plans that you lose an eternal perspective. Not only could the End Times start at any moment, thereby making any plans we have made pointless, but more importantly, God has a list of plans for you this year, and they may match, contradict, complement, or supersede what you have planned for yourself - and the only way to find out what His plans are is to stay tapped into His Spirit and constantly keep the Kingdom in mind.