by Greg Alston

"Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, 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 great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. - Matthew 24:29-31
The foregoing scripture from Jesus' Olivet Discourse is perhaps the most misinterpreted abused passage in the entire Bible. It is unequivocally not referring to the Rapture, as I shall prove to you in this segment.
In demonstrating that Matthew 24:31 is not referring to the Rapture, we must first expose the false, pre-wrath rapturist view that there is but one sign (cosmic disturbance) announcing Christ's coming. There is no singular sign indicating the coming of Christ. That was made clear by Jesus himself, as he articulated 15 different signs of His Second Coming in Matthew 24. Furthermore, if there was just one particular "sign," it would not be cosmic disturbances: "And they asked Him, saying, "Teacher, but when will these things be? And what sign will there be when these things are about to take place? And He said: "Take heed that you not be deceived" (Luke 21:7,8). If there were just one sign, it would be, as our Lord indicated - "deception in the last days."
But doesn't it say that the "sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven?" Yes, but your guess is as good as mine as to precisely what that sign might be; perhaps it is the sign of the cross or the Star of David. But it is not the cosmic disturbance that attends His coming. Why? Because there are multiple occurrences of cosmic disturbance before, during and after the Tribulation Week:

The linchpin to the pre-wrath rapture is the allegation of one sign (The Sign by Robert Van Kampen). The foregoing scriptures remove that linchpin, resulting in the collapse of the pre-wrath rapture theory.
".. Then all the tribes of the earth will mourn.. " This portion of Matthew 24:30 reveals to us who Jesus is speaking to, and it identifies the people involved in the described events. Who do you suppose they are: the Church, the lost, angels, Israel? If you chose the latter, you are right. Matthew 24:30,31 has to do with ethnic Jews (Isaiah 45:4)! These are the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel. Unless you can prove your ethnic origin from one of these tribes, then you are not the subject matter of this passage. It has nothing to do with the Church or the nations and, and therefore, can have nothing to do with the blessed hope of the believer, the Rapture. (1)
It is generally not disputed (by pre-wrath rapturists, or otherwise) that Matthew 24:29-31 refers to the physical return of Jesus Christ to the earth. In that connection, Acts 1:9-12 and Zechariah 14:1-4 plainly teach that Jesus will plant His feet on Mount Olivet at His Second Coming. This, however, is not what happens at the time of the Rapture, as described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17. There, we are "caught up" into the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. He "pulls up" nine miles above the surface of the earth, not once descending to the Mount of Olives. But there in Matthew 24:31, as clarified in Acts 1 and Zechariah 14. He does descend the remaining nine miles (distance between the surface of the earth and the cumulus cloud layer above). This is one of several proofs that these two events (the Rapture and Christ's return to earth) are separate and distinct.
For the moment, let us return to the identity of the individuals in Matthew 24:30,31 (the Jewish people who are alive at the end of the Tribulation Week). If we believe in interpreting Scripture by the use of Scripture, then we much consider those passages that, like Matthew 24:29-31, also speak to the events following the Tribulation: "And it will come to pass in that Day that the Lord will thresh, from the channel of the River to the Brook of Egypt; and you will be gathered one by one, O you children of Israel. So it shall be in that day that the great trumpet will be blown; they will come, who are about to perish in the land of Assyria, and they who are outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem" (Isaiah 27:12,13). This passage refers to the same event described in Matthew 24:29-31, so let's glean what information is available, that we might fully know its meaning. Again, we are told that the people involved are Jews: "gathered one by one, O you children of Israel." (2) In addition to identifying the affected group of people, mention of the Great Trumpet verifies that what we see happening in Matthew 24:29f is the same as that described in Isaiah 27:13 and Isaiah 11:11,13 (please pause here to read those passages again).
Perhaps the most misunderstood portion of Matthew 24:29-31 is the phrase, "gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other," Admittedly, I had trouble with this statement before I searched the Scriptures. It does sound like the Rapture, at first glance. But, if you're willing, come with me to several passages that together clarify the meaning of the phrase:
"They come from a far country, from the end of heaven, even the Lord and His weapons of indignation, to destroy the whole land" (Isaiah 13:5). Although this passage is not referring to the Second Coming, it does serve to reveal idiomatic expressions, such as "from the end of heaven," and "to the farthest part of heaven." (3) The context clearly shows us that the expression has to do with moving from one place on the physical earth to another place on the earth, i.e., "from a far country," "the whole land." And this is precisely what is suggested in Matthew 24:31.
Jews are being transported from distant lands to Jerusalem: "Up, up! Flee from the land of the north," says the Lord; "for I have spread you abroad like the four winds of heaven," says the Lord" (Zechariah 2:6). The News Testament corroborates the "four winds" as referring to "corners of the earth" (as opposed to clouds above the earth): "After these things I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree" (Revelation 7:1)

"It shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people who are left, from Assyria and Egypt, from Pathros and Cush, from Elam and Shinar, from Hamath and the islands of the sea. He will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth." .. Isaiah 11:11,12

Only willful resistance to the plain teaching of Scripture would deny that Jews are being gathered from far countries, to Jerusalem in Matthew 24:29-31. Notice carefully that Isaiah 11 refers to the second gathering, which has not yet fully occurred (less than half of world Jewry now resides in Israel). This first gathering occurred under the leadership of Zerrubabel, after the Babylonian captivity in 536 BC. The "second" gathering is the subject of Matthew 24:31,

In summary, the subject matter and specific events described in Matthew 24:29-31 are as follows:

To attempt to place the Rapture of the Church in Matthew 24:29-31 is deception at worst and sloppy scholarship at best. May we, like the Bereans, be willing to examine all things under the light of Holy Scripture.

Endnotes -
(1) An ethnic Jew who comes to faith in Jesus Christ becomes part of the Church (Collossians 3:11). The tribes referred to here are Jewish people who are alive at the Second Coming of Christ in God's eyes; there are three distinct groups of humankind Israel, the Church and the Nations (1Corinthians 10:32)
(2) Please notice the appearance of the word "gathered". It is the same word used in Matthew 24:31. Israel is gathered in Isaiah 27:12 and Israel is gathered in Matthew 24:31
(3) Mark 13:27 is sometimes used in an effort to show that the Rapture is at the end of the Tribulation. Notwithstanding its idiomatic meaning, the saints are not raptured to the farthest part of heaven," which is the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2). The third heaven is far beyond the sphere of our universe, light years away to the north (Isaiah 14:13, 66:1). This is an important point, because the Rapture removes us to the first heaven (Genesis 1:8, 1 Thessalonians 4:17), which is just nine miles above the surface of the earth - not to "the farthest part of heaven."
(4) The "great trumpet" is to be distinguished from the "trumpet of God," as reflected in 1 Thessalonians 4:16. See author's Three Trumpets of the Tribulation.

Source: Sure Foundation Ministries, Inc. - http://www.surefoundation.org - Greg Alston