WHAT IS THE SIGN OF THE KING'S
1) When will Jesus return to earth?
2) Which current events will show He is about to return?
3) Which current events will show that the world is about to end?
We wonder about His "return," but they asked about His "coming." I submit for consideration that His disciples might have been incapable of asking our question (when will Jesus return to earth) because the gospel records suggest:
1) The disciples did not expect Jesus to die.
2) The disciples did not believe Jesus would rise from the dead in three days although He had told them.
3) Jesus had never explicitly told His disciples He would ascend to heaven, much less that he would return to earth.
Prior to asking about Jesus' "coming," the disciples appear to have given very little thought to His dying. In Matthew chapter 16, when Jesus plainly told them He would die, Peter replied, "This shall never happen to You." In chapter 20 when Jesus told them He will die and rise from the dead, their only reply was to argue about how much authority each of them should have. Then when Jesus actually died, the disciples were not eagerly expecting His resurrection. The gospels record their fear, doubt, and despair while He was entombed, not their expectations, hopes, or discussions of prophecy.
The disciples could hardly have asked Jesus when He would return from heaven in Matthew 24 because apparently they did not expect Him to die, nor expect Him to rise from the dead, nor expect Him to ascend to heaven. They did not ask about His return; they asked, "What will be the sign of Your coming."
THE COMING KING
The disciples asked about His "coming" because Jesus had just spoken of His coming. We mistakenly study the question of His coming by beginning in Matthew 24:1. One verse prior (Matthew 23:39), Jesus had just quoted Psalm 118:26 explicitly referring to himself with the words, "he who comes."
We cannot understand what the disciples asked about His "coming" without understanding Psalm 118 in that culture. The Israeli culture at that time was a messianic culture where Psalm 118 was understood to be a messianic prophecy. Their scriptures had promised for centuries a "coming" King who would rescue Israel from the oppression of foreign rulers. Not only would this "coming" King rescue His people, but He would become the dominant and peaceful ruler of the whole world with all other kingdoms paying tribute to Him as ruling over all other kings.
More specifically, the "coming" King in Psalm 118:26 was to be greeted with the words, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD." With those words, the Israelites had greeted Jesus just a few days before (Mt21:9) as He entered Jerusalem on a donkey according to the scriptures (Zc9:9). When Jesus quotes Psalm 118:26 at the end of Matthew twenty three, He had already been greeted with that greeting, but He said in Matthew chapter 23 that Jerusalem would not see Him again until they greeted Him with Psalm 118:26 truthfully, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD." His disciples asked three verse later, "What will be the sign of Your coming?"
WHAT THEY REALLY ASKED
The disciples did not ask for a current event to signal His future return from heaven to earth. They asked by what "sign" He will show the world He is the Messiah and the King over all Kings. Every occurrence of the word "sign" or "signs" in the New Testament showed the understanding of that culture. They demanded of Jesus again and again that He show a sign of His authority. The most appropriate quotation comes from John 2:18-19, "The Jews then said to Him, 'What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?' Jesus answered them, 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.'"
Let us see then these statements in sequence: