As I continue our brief analysis of difficult verses for preterism to explain in the Olivet Discourse, we come to a favorite text of the gainsayers: Matthew 24:47. Did Christ come like lightning in A.D. 70, as per Matthew 24:27? That text reads: “For just as the lightning comes from the east, and flashes even to the west, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be.” This looks very similar to what we expect at the second coming of Christ, when he comes publicly and gloriously to conclude world history. How can this sort of language apply to A.D. 70?
To answer this we must understand the function of apocalyptic language. His coming here is not a visible, bodily coming. This is a metaphorical expression. It is as if Jesus physically comes down. It parallels God’s coming against Egypt in the Old Testament: “The oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud, and is about to come to Egypt; the idols of Egypt will tremble at His presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them” (Isa 19:1). Did the Egyptians physically see God’s “coming” against them? Certainly not.
It reminds us of the language describing Satan’s fall from heaven: “The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.’ And He said to them, ‘I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning’” (Luke 10:17–18). Was Satan’s fall visible like a lightning flash? It most definitely was not. His fall is compared metaphorically to lightning falling from heaven.
Consider Christ’s words to the high priest in Matthew 26:64. There Jesus says that the high priest and the Sanhedrin who are examining him during his trial will “see” the Son of Man coming in judgment: “Jesus said to him, ‘You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.’” This simply means: “Though you condemn me now, you will soon experience judgment wrath. I am the Son of Man who possesses divine power; you will suffer my storm-cloud of judgment.”
Thus, the “coming” of Christ in Matthew 24:27 is a metaphorical judgment wherein he providentially governs the Romans in their war against Israel (cp. Matt 22:7). The lightning flash is a dramatic image of Christ’s judgment in the historical events of the Jewish War. He employs lightning as a terrifying symbol of destructive power, as Scripture does elsewhere:, Lightning is terrifying (Eze 19:16; 20:18), because it is so destructive (Psa 78:48–49). Scripture records numerous examples of such lightning imagery. Frequently the Scripture speaks of catastrophic wars as storms (e.g., Isa 28:2; 29:6; Eze 38:9).