After Jesus explained to His disciples what would take place at the end of the age, during the tribulation, and at His second coming, He gives several illustrations of what the end of the age and His coming will be like. In one of those illustrations, Jesus says that the coming of the Son of Man will be “as it was in the days of Noah” (Matthew 24:37).
Before Jesus compares His coming to the days of Noah, He illustrates His coming with a parable of the fig tree. By observing the growth of the fig tree one can determine that summer is near (Matthew 24:32). In the same way, by observing the signs (the things Jesus mentioned in the earlier part of the chapter), one can recognize that His coming is near (Matthew 24:33). The generation of people who are alive when these things begin to happen will see them completed (Matthew 24:34), as they will happen swiftly. And, while Jesus’ words are totally reliable (Matthew 24:35), He said at that time that no one knows exactly when the events will take place except for His Father (Matthew 24:36).
Against the backdrop of the fig tree illustration, Jesus says that the coming of the Son of Man will be “as the days of Noah were” (Matthew 24:37, NKJV). This is an important statement for several reasons. First, Jesus identifies Himself as the “Son of Man,” the one in Daniel 7:13–14 who is given an eternal kingdom. With that identification Jesus is claiming to be the rightful King over all. When the King—the Son of Man—comes, it will be as in the days of Noah. In those days, the people were going about their lives, eating, drinking, and marrying, until the flood came swiftly (Matthew 24:38). They were ignorant about what was coming until it came upon them and took them away (Matthew 24:39). In the same way, when Christ returns to earth as the Son of Man—the King—He will bring judgment with Him. Even though the signs of His coming will be obvious to anyone who is paying attention, apparently few will be looking.
It is worth noting that, while there are some similarities between the event Jesus describes in Matthew 24 and the event we call the “rapture” (1 Thessalonians 4:13–17), these are two different events. The events of Matthew 24 result in Christ coming to earth with people being taken in judgment, while the rapture event has Christ only coming to the clouds and taking up people to be in heaven. The rapture event takes place before the tribulation period described in Matthew 24 (as the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4 precedes the day of the Lord in 1 Thessalonians 5), and the coming of Jesus in Matthew 24 occurs after the tribulation period (Matthew 24:29–31).
Even though Jesus’ coming would not be during the lifetime of the people He was addressing in Matthew 24, He prepares them for what would take place so they would be on the alert because of the certainty of the events and the uncertainty (from their perspective) of the timing (Matthew 24:42). Jesus provides His listeners an outline of the future so they will know that God’s plans will come to fruition and that He has given His disciples a stewardship with which to be faithful. We also need a sense of urgency. Even if these prophesied events don’t begin to happen in our lifetime, we have only a limited time to use for Him. We should strive to make the most of the time He has given us (Ephesians 5:16). The coming of the Son of Man will be as it was in the days of Noah.