Jesus, like Isaiah, is employing apocalyptic imagery, and by doing so is vesting His words with the weight that He believes is due them, and doing it by utilizing the familiar words of one of Israel’s great prophets---words that came to pass and, owing to the fact that Israel had been in subjection to a foreign power and therefore under their God’s continued judgment from that point on, served to define Israel’s existence to that very day. Naturally, if one has been successfully disabused of the notion that Jesus is somehow speaking about the end of the world, and is now positioned as a responsible hearer of His words and reader of the text, then there will be no falling into the trap of thinking about “the end” as “the end of the world”.
What Jesus can be heard saying, as He continues to speak unswervingly about the Temple and as He builds upon the words and actions of judgment against the Temple and its regime that were delivered in the wake of His triumphal entry, is that the Temple has become corrupt and that the Creator God is going to bring judgment against it. Israel’s God did it before by the instrument of the Babylonians, and now, given the situation that was then in existence, it is obvious that it is Rome that is going to perform the role of Babylon.
Jesus then goes on to link this judging event to the Son of Man’s coming to the Ancient of Days, adding “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven,” or the sky, “ and all the tribes of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man arriving on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30). Once again, Jesus references Daniel chapter seven, and in doing so combines the time of the fall of the Temple with the time when the Son of Man receives His kingdom.
So when will the Son of Man come (to the Ancient of Days) and receive His kingdom and all power and authority? When the Temple falls. When will the Temple fall? When the Son of Man receives His kingdom and all power and authority. By now, because the reader is squarely focused on the Temple and is hearing things correctly as first-century Jews that are inhabiting the narrative, it is possible to successfully resist the temptation to see the Son of Man arriving on the clouds of heaven as a movement to earth, and instead rightly understand it as the movement of an event in the heavenly realm.
After speaking again about the arrival of the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven, as the Son of Man goes before the Ancient of Days to receive His kingdom (power and glory) rather than coming to earth, Jesus says “And He will send His angels with a loud trumpet blast and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (24:31). Because attention has again been called to Daniel’s seventh chapter, it would not be inappropriate to hear these words about the gathering of the elect amidst the falling echoes of the kingdom-of-God-laced words about the Son of Man. Doing so, it is appropriate to reflect on words such as “While I was watching, that horn began to wage war against the holy ones,” God’s elect people, “and was defeating them, until the Ancient of Days arrived and judgment was rendered in favor of the holy ones of the Most High. Then the time came for the holy ones to take possession of the kingdom” (Daniel 7:21-22).
It is not impossible to hear about the gathering of the elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other, as an approximation of these words from Daniel, especially if Jesus is using veiled language to say that which He cannot overtly say. Likewise, since this judgment in favor of the holy ones occurs in conjunction with the report of the Son of Man’s actions in Daniel, why would this not be that to which Jesus is making reference here in Matthew (along with Mark and Luke)? Indeed, it would seem incongruous to think that Jesus is referring to anything else.