“until the Son of Man comes.” The Son of Man “coming” in this verse refers to Christ’s Second Coming, when Jesus comes to earth, fights the Battle of Armageddon, conquers the earth, and sets up his kingdom. Many theologians attest to this. E. W. Bullinger says in his marginal note on the verse: “…His coming…would then have been (and will now yet be) the judicial coming of “the Son of Man.”a The Ryrie Study Bible correctly states: “These verses are a prediction of persecution in the tribulation days and at the second coming of Christ.”
Davies and Allison say: “On the lips of Jesus, a saying such as Mt. 10:23 would have been a word of encouragement to disciples or missionaries whose future included suffering in the eschatological tribulation: take heart, for salvation is near to hand. The attempts to interpret 10:23 as fulfilled prophecy have been numerous. …Against all these interpretations, there is every reason to urge that Matthew identified the coming of the Son of Man with the coming of the kingdom of God in its fullness. According to the First Gospel, when the Son of Man comes, the angels will be sent forth, every man will be requited according to his deeds and Jesus will sit on his throne. (Matt. 13:41; 16:27; 24:27-44; 25:31). In other words, the coming of the Son of Man will mean the final judgment.”b
The idea of the “coming of the Son of Man” (using the phrase “Son of Man”) is universally used of the Second Coming. There is no use of the phrase other than that in the Bible. Since that is the case, what would be the reason that any theologian would try to say that in this one instance the phrase somehow takes on a new meaning? There is one and only one reason: the “coming of the Son of Man” did not occur in the apostles’ lifetimes, but is still future. People who say that this verse cannot refer to the Second Coming for the simple reason that it is future are using circular reasoning. The assumption is that Jesus cannot be mistaken for any reason, then using that assumption, they search for an “explanation” for what he could have meant that is different from the clear implication of his words. That is not good theology. Good theology comes from properly reading and interpreting the words of Scripture. In this case, the meaning of the coming of the Son of Man is clear in Scripture, it is his Second Coming.
Could it be that the “you” in the verse has just a general meaning and just means something such as “you believers” instead of you apostles who I am speaking to? In other words, could Jesus just have been making the general statement that evangelism would not stop in Israel before he came? That cannot be correct, because none of Jesus’ audience would have ever thought that. Why would anyone doubt that evangelism in Israel would stop? After all, the Old Testament prophecies indicate that there will be “saints” (“holy ones”) resisting evil right up until the time of the End (Dan. 7:18-28). There would have been no point to Jesus making the general statement that evangelism would continue in Israel—the statement would have been so universal and obvious that it would have been essentially meaningless. In contrast, if the “you” he was speaking to were those specific apostles and disciples in his audience, then what he said would have been very exciting and encouraging.
Although we do not know why God inspired Jesus to say his Second Coming would be before the apostles had evangelized Israel, we know that Jesus said things similar to other prophets like Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Paul who, speaking what God told them to, said the Day of the Lord was near. So for Christ to say that the day of the Lord is near (“you shall not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes”) would not be materially different from what the prophets of both the Old and New Testaments said. The context of Jesus’ statement is what would happen to the disciples during the Tribulation that will precede the end times. Reading Matthew 10:15-23 is very similar to reading Matthew 24:9 or more exactly, Luke 21:12-17. Jesus forewarned his disciples of the troubles they would have to endure, and then gave them the encouragement that before they finished evangelizing Israel, the Second Coming would occur.
[For more of Jesus making statements about the timing of his Second Coming that did not come to pass as predicted, see commentary on Matt. 16:28. For more on the kingdom that Christ will set up on earth after his Second Coming, the Millennial Kingdom, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth.”]