Coming On Clouds

by Charles S. Meek

“For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will be the COMING of the Son of Man. . . . the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. . . . and they will see the Son of Man COMING on the CLOUDS of heaven with power and great glory. . . . Truly, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” (Matthew 24:27-34)

If Jesus was to “come” FROM HEAVEN as the DIVINE SON OF GOD, AFTER HIS ASCENSION and GLORIFICATION, how would it look? How would the original audience have understood these prophecies? Wouldn’t they associate Jesus’ “Second Coming” in some way with the COMINGS OF YHWH in the Old Testament? Note Matthew 26:64 and the Jews’ response to Jesus’ warning to them.

The Second Coming passages in the New Testament are about Jesus’ soon JUDGMENT, i.e. WRATH, upon the apostate Jews living in his day (Matthew 3:7-9; 19:28; 21:33-45; 22:1-14; 23:29-24:2; 26:63-66; Luke 21:1-24, 29-33; 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16; Revelation 6:12-17; 22:6-20; etc.). This was to punish the Jews for their sins and failure to accept Him as Messiah (Matthew 23:29-24:2) and for their participation with the Roman authorities in Jesus’ crucifixion (Matthew 27:25).

Note that Jesus judges like the Father per John 5:21-27.

Matthew 24 is packed with prophetic imagery, including CLOUDS and COSMIC DISTURBANCES.  People who are not familiar with biblical apocalyptic imagery assume that such language is strictly literal. When Jesus comes again, He will appear as a 5-foot-5 Jewish man literally riding a cloud (on a white horse per Revelation 19) to assume his literal throne in Jerusalem (Luke 31:32). But that’s a misunderstanding of the Bible. Bear with me.

In the first century, the Jews expected a worldly, political Messianic king to appear and take charge and restore the kingdom. Fast forward to today, premillennial Christians hope for something similar from Jesus. But their understanding of biblical prophecy is as flawed as the Jews’ was. Jesus insisted that his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36; Luke 17:20)!

While humans want a worldly king, that idea was expressly described as abhorrent by God in 1 Samuel 8:4-7. In this passage, an earthly king was not honoring to God because it was tantamount to rejecting God in heaven. The New Testament teaches that Jesus is reigning NOW in heaven (Hebrews 8:1-4). He is with us now. We don’t need an earthly king.

While this may be startling to most evangelicals, there is overwhelming evidence that Jesus’ coming on clouds happened at the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 66-70. Not only a careful analysis of biblical prophecy supports this, but, interestingly, there is external evidence too. Period historians Josephus and Tacitus independently reported eyewitness sightings of an angelic army in chariots in the clouds above Judea during this time.[1] That satisfies the visibility requirement of such texts as Revelation 1:7 (“every eye will see Him”).

I dare say that not one Christian in a hundred understands the Old Testament context of New Testament prophecy. Let’s examine the biblical evidence that Jesus’ Parousia (his “effectual divine presence”) happened at the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70—in a real, but not in a 100% literal way. It was a “coming in judgment” against Old Covenant Israel, who had become apostate and exceedingly sinful (Matthew 23:29-39), refused to accept Jesus as Messiah (Matthew 23:37), and participated with the Roman authorities to have Him killed (John 19:15). This is the preterist view of eschatology.

The nature of the Second Coming is, in part, determined by its timing. Jesus promised that all such prophecies would happen in his generation (Matthew 24:34). There are over 100 passages in the New Testament that affirm this time constraint (“must shortly take place,” “about to happen,” “before some standing here taste death,” “the time is near,” “soon,” etc.) Consider Matthew 10:23; 16:27-28; 23:36; 26:64; Revelation 1:1-3; 22:6-10; etc.

In the Old Testament, CLOUDS are used symbolically to portray God’s presence, judgment, or proclamation. People did not see God literally, but saw what He did or perceived his presence in other ways. Consider the following passage excerpts, where clouds are God’s FIGURATIVE abode or mode of travel. Often this is about God’s historical judgments on nations or God’s enemies:

“The Lord descended in a CLOUD and stood with him there . . .” (Exodus 34:5-7)

“He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, thick CLOUDS dark with water. . . and the foundations of the world were laid bare.” (Psalm 18:4-15, judgment against David’s enemies)

“And the Lord is riding on a swift CLOUD and comes to Egypt, and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence. . . .” (Isaiah 19:1-15, judgment against Egypt)

Please do some Bible study. Take a minute to look up these additional passages: Exodus 13:21; 16:10; 19:9; 33:9; Leviticus 16:2; Numbers 9:15-22; 11:25; Deuteronomy 4:11; 5:22; 31:15; 2 Samuel 22:8-15; 1 Kings 8:10-11; 2 Chronicles 5:14; Psalm 97:2-5; 104:3; Jeremiah 4:13; Ezekiel 1:4, 27-28; 10:3-4, 18-19; 30:3, 18-19; Daniel 7:13-14; Joel 2:1-2; Nahum 1:2-6; Zephaniah 1:14-15.

Jesus, in the Olivet Discourse was claiming deity when He spoke of himself as “coming with clouds.” So, when we read Matthew 24, in light of this Old Testament language, we understand that Jesus’ Second Coming was a “coming in divine judgment” upon Israel, expressed in highly figurative, but common Hebraic apocalyptic language.

In addition to the cloud-language we see other astronomical perturbations associated with Jesus’ presence in judgment—sun darkened, stars falling, heaven shaken. This too is Old Testament non-literal imagery describing God’s “coming” in judgment. No one actually saw God, but certainly saw the EFFECTS of his judgment.

This coming/presence in judgment of Jesus in AD 70 was similar to YHWH’s previous judgments against his enemies on multiple occasions in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, God used opposing armies to effect his judgment, including using the Babylonian army to conquer apostate Judah/Jerusalem in 586 BC. In the New Testament, God used the Roman army to punish Israel for their sins, failure to accept Jesus as Messiah, and for the Jews’ role in his crucifixion.

Compare the similar language of cosmic disturbances in Matthew 24:27-31 with these Old Testament judgment passages: Isaiah 13:10-13 (against Babylon), Isaiah 34:4-10 (against Edom), Jeremiah 4:23-31 (against Judah and Jerusalem), Ezekiel 32:7-8 (against Pharaoh and Egypt), Joel 3:15-16 (against the nations), Amos 5:20, 8:9 (against Israel), Micah 1:2-16 (against Israel and Judah), Zephaniah 1:14-18 (against Judah, Jerusalem, and Judah’s enemies).[2]

The New Testament writers emphatically taught that Jesus would return while many of his contemporaries were still alive (2 Thessalonians 1:6-8; Hebrews 1:2; 10:37; James 5:7-9; 1 Peter 1:13-20; 2 Peter 3:9-12; 1 John 1:18; etc.). Where did they get this? From Jesus himself, of course (Matthew 10:23; 16:27-28; 24:29-34; 26:64). I, for one, believe that Jesus fulfilled his promises in exactly the time and nature that He predicted. If He did not, He was a false prophet.

For more information, see my article “What Is a Coming of God?”:

What Is A Coming Of God? – Prophecy Questions

Also see this article by Richard Anthony, who explains in more detail the meaning of the “Second Coming of Christ” and the “Day of the Lord.”:


[2] While most, if not all of these passages were fulfilled in the past, a similar one—Isaiah 24—is almost certainly about AD 70, when the old covenant was washed away with the destruction of the temple.

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