Searching the Scriptures over many years to understand eschatology, I have become persuaded that there is a major point most modern Christians miss about Bible prophecy. Jesus said that He would COME on “clouds of heaven with power and great glory,” with angels and trumpets, and cosmic disturbances of the created order (Matthew 24:29-34; etc.). I dare say that not one Christian in a 100 understands the Old Testament context of these statements. Frankly, what most Christians understand about prophecy they have picked up in the echo chamber without having ever checked it against God’s Word.
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 YAHWEH in the Old Testament? 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.
Would Jesus have to be physically present on earth to effect his divine judgment? The Greek noun most often used for Jesus “Second Coming” is Parousia. It is used sixteen times in the New Testament about Jesus’ “return.” It literally means “presence.” It does not demand a literal physical-bodily appearance. It can correctly be understood to be Jesus’ EFFECTUAL DIVINE PRESENCE. Now think about this: Isn’t Jesus present with us even now, effecting change and judging the world?
The language of “coming on a (glory) cloud” in the Old Testament is idiomatic apocalyptic phraseology about Yahweh’s “COMINGS— often IN JUDGMENT against his enemies. You simply cannot understand New Testament eschatology unless you grasp this context.
I list below two categories of pertinent Old Testament activities of God. Notice how clouds are often described as God’s figurative abode and mode of travel. Also notice how the Bible uses metaphoric language of cosmic and earthly disturbances to describe intrusions of God on earth. This is called “Hebraic apocalyptic language.” It is poetic/metaphoric language, that is non-literal language to explain literal events. People did not literally see Yahweh, but saw the EFFECTS of his presence in various ways. To get a full concept of a divine coming, please take the time to study these passages:
- COMINGS IN JUDGMENT. Scholars agree that most of these judgments have already occurred. In parentheses are the targets of God’s righteous judgment. 2 Samuel 22:8-15 (David’s enemies); Psalm 18:7-15 (David’s enemies); 50:3 (God’s people); 68:1-8 (God’s enemies); 96:9-13 (God’s enemies); 97:2-5 (God’s enemies); 98:9 (the world); Isaiah 13:6-13 (Babylon); 19:1-22 (Egypt); 24:1-23 (covenant breakers of Jerusalem); 26:21 (sinners); 29:3-6 (Jerusalem); 34:1-17 (Edom); 66:15-22 (the great judgment); Jeremiah 4:1-28 (Judah and Jerusalem); Ezekiel 30:3-19 (Egypt); 32:7-8 (Egypt/Pharaoh); Hosea 8:1-14 (Israel); Joel 2:1-16, 31 (against Israel, ref. Acts 2); 3:15-16 (the nations); Amos 5:16-25 (Israel); 8:1-9 (Israel); Micah 1:2-16 (Israel and Judah); Nahum 1:2-6 (Nineveh); Zephaniah 1:2-18 (Judah, Jerusalem, and Judah’s enemies); Zechariah 14:2-11 (Jerusalem).
- COMING/COMING DOWN—not necessarily in judgment, but to display his glory or to effect change in other ways. Genesis 11:5-8; 18:21; Exodus 3:8; 19:9-11; 34:5; Leviticus 16:2; Numbers 11:16-25; Deuteronomy 4:11-14; 5:22; 33:2; 2 Chronicles 5:13-14; Psalm 104:3; 144:5-7; Isaiah 30:26; 31:4; 35:1-10; 40:3-10; 60:19-20; 64:1-3; Ezekiel 1:28; Daniel 7:13; Zechariah 1:16; 9:14.
Now, compare the language to the New Testament: Matthew 24:30; 26:64; Acts 1:9-11; 2 Peter 3:7-12; Hebrews 12:22-29; Revelation 1:7; 6:12-17. Revelation 3:3 is an interesting example. In this passage we see that if the church of Sardis did not repent, Jesus “will come against them like a thief.” Obviously, He was not threatening to come bodily. Given that there are over 100 passages in the New Testament that say that Jesus would “come/return” while some of those living in the first century were still alive (Matthew 10:23; 16:27-28; 23:29-39; 24:34; Revelation 1:1-3; 22:6-20; etc.), does this study give you a different perspective of “coming on clouds?”
While it is a minority view today, many Christians down through the ages have not understood passages about Jesus’ Parousia be a future literal physical-bodily appearance. Rather, they have understood it as a “coming in judgment” in AD 70.
I recommend this 20-minute video by Paul White that discusses this, entitled “The Shaking of Heaven and Earth”:
I also commend to the reader this 4-part series on “What Is a Coming of God” by Riley O’Brien Powell:
And be sure to peruse our Facebook site Evangelical Preterism!
(To learn more, check out my book at Amazon: CHRISTIAN HOPE THROUGH FULFILLED PROPHECY.)