Joseph Smith placed the appearance of the sign of the Son of Man after the sign of the absent rainbow in the chronology of the signs of the times.1 He also placed this Messianic sign after the sun had been darkened and the moon bathed in blood.2 Likewise, the Joseph Smith Translation of Matthew 24 states that “the sign of the Son of Man” will be seen in heaven after the days of tribulation and after “the powers of heaven” (or the stars) are “shaken” or fall from the sky (v. 37; cf. Rev. 6:13; D&C 88:87).
Just as a bright heavenly object announced the arrival of the Lord upon the earth during the meridian of time (see Matt. 2:1–2, 9–10), so too will His Second Coming be heralded. This “great sign” will be seen by “all people,” and it will appear immediately after angels fly through the midst of heaven and announce the approach of the Bridegroom (see D&C 88:92–93). One of Joseph Smith’s close associates, Wandle Mace, claimed that the Prophet said that this sign would be the return of the city of Enoch (cf. Moses 7:62–63).3
Joseph Smith provides valuable commentary on this subject, explaining that when this sign is seen by the world’s population, they will speculate that “it is a planet, a comet, etc.”4 He also said that while the wicked will not understand its true significance—attributing it to a natural cause—the righteous will know what it means. And the coming of the Son of Man will be like the dawning of the morning sun that moves along gradually from the east until it reaches unto the west. In a manner similar to the sun, this sign will be small at first but will gradually increase until it is “all in a blaze” and every eye sees it.5 Elder Orson Pratt was in agreement, teaching that “it is to be like our sun seen over one entire side of the globe, and then passing immediately round to the other, or else it will encircle the whole earth at the same time.”6 In either case, every eye will eventually behold this grand indication that something extraordinary is about to take place.
Although the other signs of the Second Coming are indeed miraculous, the Doctrine and Covenants asserts that there will be “greater signs in heaven above” than that of the stars falling, the sun being darkened, and the moon appearing as blood (D&C 29:14). President Wilford Woodruff, who was shown many of these additional signs by an angel of God, relates what one of them will be. As a missionary he had the following experience.
I knelt down and prayed. I arose from my knees and sat down. The room was filled with light. A messenger came to me. We had a long conversation. He laid before me as if in a panorama, the signs of the last days, and told me what was coming to pass. I saw the sun turned to darkness, the moon to blood, [and] the stars fall from heaven. I saw the resurrection day. I saw armies of men in the first resurrection, clothed with the robes of the Holy Priesthood. I saw the second resurrection. I saw a great many signs that were presented before me [cf. Hel. 14:6], by this personage; and among the rest, there were seven lions, as of burning brass, set in the heavens. [The angel said], “That is one of the signs that will appear in the heavens before the coming of the Son of Man. It is a sign of the various dispensations.”7
In another recital of this vision, President Woodruff again notes that these objects were “seven lions like burning brass placed in the heavens.” He reports, “I asked the messenger what they were for. He said they were representative of the different dispensations of the gospel of Christ to men, and they would all be seen in the heavens among the signs that would be shown.”8
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on LDSLiving.com in June 2019.
1. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, ed., The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1980), 335; hereafter cited as WJS.
2. See HC 5:291.
3. Wandle Mace statement located in the “Joseph Smith Papers” collection, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah.
4. WJS, 180.
5. Ibid., 181.
6. JD, 8:50.
7. CD, 1:217.
8. Ibid., 5:236.