Signs of the Coming Son of Man (Luke 21:25–28)

by S. Kent Brown. This text is excerpted from The Testimony of Luke, part of the BYU New Testament Commentary. (For this reading, compare Matt. 24:29–31; Mark 13:24–27.) This reading includes the New Rendition, the Analysis, and Notes.

New Rendition

25 “And there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth anguish of nations in anxiety at the sounds of the sea and the waves, 26 men fainting from fear and expectation of things coming upon the world, since the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and much glory. 28 And when these things begin to occur, stand up and raise your heads, because your deliverance approaches.”


In these verses, the Savior turns to the signs that will precede his Second Coming and the end-time, illuminating a gap between the fall of Jerusalem and these future events. By borrowing language from the Old Testament that is difficult to grasp in places, Jesus predicts troubling portents in the heavens, on the earth, and among men and women.[1] Frighteningly, no one will escape except those who can “lift up [their] heads” and confidently anticipate that their “redemption draweth nigh” (21:28). Hence, Jesus graciously offers the optimistic view to his followers that he and they will ultimately triumph even when challenges seem most sharp and daunting.[2]

Earlier, Jesus presents himself as Son of Man in both his contemporary, earthly contexts and future, heavenly scenes (see 9:26; 11:30; 12:8, 40; 17:22, 24, 26, 30; 18:8).[3] In each of these settings, Jesus offers a hint or an aspect of his work, both here and hereafter. But when he sketches his future arrival as one “in a cloud with power and great glory,” he places a capstone on his ministry, affirming that he comes as lord and king of all (21:27), arriving “with all the holy angels” (D&C 45:44; “all the hosts”— D&C 29:11).

More concretely for his Apostles, Jesus affirms personally to them in his first-person account that, when he comes again, “if ye have slept in peace blessed are you; for as you now behold me and know that I am, even so shall ye come unto me” from their sleep in the grave. More than this, in that day “your redemption shall be perfected,” bringing a glorious climax to their quest for eternal life (D&C 45:46).

In this section of Luke’s record, the Joseph Smith Translation adds clarifying words both to the setting with the Twelve and to the Savior’s sayings that support the idea of a substantial gap in time between the fall of Jerusalem and his Second Coming. At the beginning of 21:25 where we read “there shall be signs,” the JST inserts the following: “And he answered them, and said, In the generation in which the times of the Gentiles shall be fulfilled, there shall be signs” (JST 21:25). Jesus is responding to a request from the Twelve that does not appear in Luke’s report: “Master, tell us concerning thy coming?” (JST 21:24), elucidating that Jesus’ discussion of the “signs” arises from the disciples’ honest query. Those “signs” will appear only “in the generation in which the times of the Gentiles shall be fulfilled,” that is, in a distant day, and will include “The earth also [being] troubled” along with “the waters of the great deep” (JST 12:24). In a word, Jesus’ Second Coming and the signs that precede it are not imminent. They remain far away.


21:25 there shall be signs: Picking up the thread at the end of the prior verse about “the times of the Gentiles,” the Joseph Smith Translation adds introductory words from Jesus to this verse: “And he answered them, and said, In the generation in which the times of the Gentiles shall be fulfilled, there shall be signs” (JST 21:25). Thus, the signs that Jesus discloses will characterize particularly that distant age. Incidentally, the Greek term for “sign” (sēmeion) appears elsewhere in negative dress (see 2:34; 11:16) as well as positive (see 2:11–12; the Notes on 11:16, 29; 21:7).[4]

the sun, . . . the moon, . . . the stars: This celestial set of signs often appears in different but somewhat obscure language: “before the day of the Lord shall come, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon be turned into blood, and the stars fall from heaven” (D&C 45:42; Matt. 24:29; Mark 13:24–25; also Ezek. 32:7; D&C 29:14). Even though this more descriptive language is missing from Luke’s report, Jesus’ recorded words clearly point to an important day, the day of the Lord (see Isa. 13:9–10; 34:4; Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15; Acts 2:20; 2 Pet. 3:10, 12). This scene is augmented in other scripture that speaks of future events, almost as if the heavenly spheres are alive: “the sun shall hide his face, and shall refuse to give light; and the moon shall be bathed in blood; and the stars shall become exceedingly angry, and shall cast themselves down” (D&C 88:87). What is more, at the time of the Savior’s coming, “so great shall be the glory of his presence that the sun shall hide his face in shame, and the moon shall withhold its light, and the stars shall be hurled from their places” (D&C 133:49). But he adds the caution that “these things . . . shall not pass away until all shall be fulfilled” (D&C 45:23). Even so, when the moment arrives, the celestial world will acknowledge the arrival of its king in dramatic fashion (see D&C 43:18; 49:23).

upon the earth distress of nations: Mirroring the celestial disturbances are terrestrial events that will engulf “nations” or “peoples” (Greek ethnos).[5]

the sea and the waves roaring: The latter part of this verse and the first part of 21:26 stand only in Luke’s account. This image of nature out of control appears nowhere else and the Joseph Smith Translation strengthens this scene: “The earth also shall be troubled, and the waters of the great deep” (JST 21:25; also Moses 7:66). Further hints exist in Jesus’ first- person account: “the whole earth shall be in commotion” and “there shall be earthquakes also in divers places, and many desolations” and “the earth shall tremble, and reel to and fro” and the earth’s inhabitants “shall see signs and wonders, for they shall be shown forth . . . in the earth beneath” (D&C 45:26, 33, 48, 40; also 2 Ne. 6:15; 8:6). In related language, scripture pleads for people to repent in the aftermath or midst of alarming natural phenomena (see Rev. 9:20–21; 1 Ne. 19:11; D&C 43:25; 88:87–91). Notably, the JST makes a subtle adjustment that impacts the meaning of Luke’s expression: “there shall be . . . upon the earth distress of nations . . . like the sea and the waves roaring” (JST 21:25; emphasis added).

21:26 Men’s hearts failing them for fear: In the human sphere, the celestial and terrestrial terrors will cause unparalleled fright (see D&C 88:89, 91). Besides fear, in this era “the love of men shall wax cold, and iniquity shall abound” (D&C 45:27). This circumstance will be reversed among believers: rejoicing, they will be confident that their “redemption draweth nigh” and “that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand” (21:28, 31; also Joel 3:16).

those things which are coming on the earth: The Greek verb (eperchomai) bears the sense “to come upon” with unpleasant consequences.[6] In the first person account, the Risen Savior spells out his meaning in more detail: “they shall behold blood, and fire, and vapors of smoke” (D&C 45:41). Moreover, in this dark moment “the nations of the earth shall mourn” and “calamity shall cover the mocker . . . and they that have watched for iniquity shall be hewn down and cast into the fire” (D&C 45:49–50; also D&C 87:6–8; JST 2 Pet. 3:10, 12).

the powers of heaven shall be shaken: The meaning of this declaration remains unsure. This description appears in all the records of this sermon, but only partially in Doctrine and Covenants 45:48, and exhibits Old Testament ties (see Joel 2:10; Hag. 2:6, 21). The context consistently connects this statement to the “signs” of the sun, moon, and stars as well as the coming of the Son of Man in the clouds (see 21:25, 27; Matt. 24:29–31; Mark 13:24–27; JST 2 Pet. 3:10; JS–M 1:33–36; D&C 88:87; 133:49). Hence, the prophecy has much to do with the heavens, occasionally partnered with the earth. But the identity of “the powers” (Greek dynamis), which seem to possess individuality, continues unspecified although other New Testament passages make reference to them (see Rom. 8:38; Eph. 1:21; 1 Pet. 3:22; also D&C 24:1; 38:11). It seems plain that events of the end-time will fracture their world (see D&C 21:6).[7]

21:27 And then shall they see: Before this expression, the Joseph Smith Translation inserts all of verse 28 and adds three words; by doing so, it becomes apparent that Jesus cements the link between “signs” in heaven and earth (see the Notes on 21:25–26), and the event they point to—his Second Coming: “And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up and lift up your heads, for the day of your redemption draweth nigh” (JST 21:27; emphasis added). In a different vein, the audience for Jesus’ distant arrival, noted by the pronoun “they,” remains unclear in Luke’s account. Matthew 24:30 holds that “all the tribes of the earth” will see his arrival (also JST Matt. 24:37–38; JST Mark 13:41–42). In other scripture, the audience is “the remnant [that] shall be gathered unto this place [Jerusalem]” (D&C 45:43). At some point, ominously, “the arm of the Lord [shall] fall upon the nations” (D&C 45:47; also D&C 1:13–14; 35:14; 45:45).

the Son of man coming in a cloud with power: As in other passages, the “coming one” is the Savior (see 3:16; Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:7; Acts 13:25; Mal. 3:1; Mosiah 3:9; D&C 29:11; 133:2, 10, 17, 19, 66; the Notes on 3:16; 13:35;

19:38; 20:16; 21:8, 27; the Analysis on 3:7–20; 19:28–40, 45–48; 22:39–46).[8]

But on this occasion, he comes as he has never come before, descending from heaven. Concretely, he will arrive at several spots near one another, including the Mount of Olives (see Zech. 14:4; D&C 45:48; 133:20), Mount Zion (see D&C 133:18), and Jerusalem itself (see D&C 133:21).

great glory: This time, Jesus, the coming one, will arrive in royal dress, in royal hues, and in his resurrected form (see 24:26; also 9:26; D&C 29:11; 45:16, 44, 56).[9]

21:28 And when these things begin: The Joseph Smith Translation relocates this entire verse to a position preceding 21:27, forming an introduction to the arrival of the Son of Man (see JST 21:27–28).

these things: The reference seems to be to the “signs” that Jesus enumerates in 21:25–26,[10] a view made more secure by the movement of this verse in the JST.

lift up your heads: The lifting of one’s hands or eyes or voice often points to a special, sometimes sacred occasion, including prayer and giving blessings (see 16:23; 18:13; 3 Ne. 11:5, 8; the Note on 6:20).[11]

your redemption draweth nigh: This teaching, already linked in the Old Testament to the Lord’s voice heard from Jerusalem (see Joel 3:16), is expressed in other scripture a bit differently: “your redemption shall be perfected” by the coming of the Lord (D&C 45:46; also Moses 7:67). The Greek term for “redemption” (apolytrōsis), appearing only here in the Gospels but frequently in Paul’s writings (see Rom. 3:24; 8:23; 1 Cor. 1:30; Eph. 1:7, 14; etc.), bears the sense of being delivered.[12]88 The Joseph Smith Translation adds three words: “the day of your redemption draweth nigh” (JST 21:27; emphasis added). Such language indicates that Jesus’ actions will occur in an earthly time frame and not in a timeless setting. In a related vein, modern scripture holds that the newly baptized church members will intelligently begin to look “for the signs of [ Jesus’] coming, and shall know [him]” (D&C 39:23). After this final expression in verse 28, the JST inserts verse 27: “And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud, with power and great glory” (JST 21:28).


[1] Green, Luke, 740, nn. 44–47 for references; we note that Green’s reference in n. 46 should be to Isa. 5:30, not to Jonah 5:30, which does not exist.

[2] Morris, Luke, 322; Green, Luke, 740–41.

[3] Green, Luke, 740

[4] BAGD, 755–65; TDNT, 7:231–36, 238–40.

[5] BAGD, 217.

[6] BAGD, 284; TDNT, 2:680–81.

[7] BAGD, 207; TDNT, 2:285, 307–8.

[8] TDNT, 2:666–69.

[9] Fitzmyer, Luke, 1:789; Green, Luke, 740.

[10] Marshall, Luke, 777.

[11] TDNT, 1:186.

[12] Plummer, Luke, 485; TDNT, 4:351–56; Morris, Luke, 328.