"And then the sign of the Son of man will appear in heaven; then, too, all the peoples of the earth will beat their breasts; and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet to gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. 'Take the fig tree as a parable: as soon as its twigs grow supple and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. So with you when you see all these things: know that he is near, right at the gates. In truth I tell you, before this generation has passed away, all these things will have taken place. Sky and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. But as for that day and hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, no one but the Father alone. " (Matthew 24:30-36)As I said yesterday, there are at least three senses in which this passage from Matthew might be properly interpreted. Yesterday, I discussed the Parousian interpretation, so today I want to discuss the Eschatological interpretation. Before I get too carried away, though, I should note that the Parousia--Christ's second coming as King and Judge--is a sub-category of eschatology, so a distinction between these two sense ought to be made. When I speak of the Eschatological interpretation of this passage, I am referring not to the Parousia, but rather to the eschatology of the individual, and not of the whole race (or indeed the whole universe); this latter eschatology--that of mankind--was discussed briefly in the Parousian interpretation.
The eschatological interpretation, then, is to say that Christ will come again in glory to each of us at our death. He will judge whether we are to go on to eternal damnation or life, and moreover whether we need further purification before enjoying heaven. Such is the fate of all men, that we may go to our just reward or punishment after this life, judged by the most just and most merciful of Judges, Christ in His heavenly glory.
Once again, we return to the interpretation of the phrase "before this generation passes." Whereas the Parousian interpretation ascribes the metaphorical interpretation of "this generation" to mean mankind, the eschatological interpretation requires both a literal and a figurative interpretation. "This generation" means the generation into which a man was born; but no man ca be the last of his generation without also being the first in the next generation. Another way of saying this is: more than one "generation" of people is always alive and walking around; this was still the case 2000 years ago. "This generation" may just as easily have been the children, while Christ addresses the adults; it could mean the young adults while He addresses the old ones; and the children's' generation was not yet all born as of yet.
Thus, any who He was addressing--from the very young to the very old--could just as easily say that they were not the last of "this generation." Any of them could have taken a sort of "literal" translation of His words as applied to "this generation." The figurative interpretation then is the fact that while He appears to be coming again in glory, it is really we who are returning to His presence at the end of our lives. Let us hope that when we find ourselves in that Presence, we are prepared to stay, and also desiring to do so. If we are not quite ready, by have been desiring it, our desire will be placed on hold as we undergo the final preparations; but if we lack the desire to be in God's presence, He won't force it upon us, and we will by our own wills be cast into the outer darkness (cf Matthew 22:13), where I have heard there is to be much "weeping and grinding of teeth."
If you enjoyed this post, here are some other related posts:
Christ's Return: the Parousian Sense
Christ's Return: the Veiled Presence Sense
Thirty Minute Musings: The Rapture, End Times, and Whatnot
What Happens to Non-Christians When They Die: A Speculative Reflection
Of Infants and Salvation (Nicene Guys)
Pascal's Wager and Invincible Ignorance: Irreconcilable? (Nicene Guys)