Many modern skeptics, following scholars such as Bertrand Russell and Albert Schweitzer, have believed Jesus to be a false prophet because he predicted his “coming on clouds” within the lifetime of his disciples. Did Jesus have the Second Coming in mind or does “coming on clouds” have a different meaning?
First, when Jesus told Caiaphas and the court that condemned him to death that he was the Son of Man who would come “on the clouds of heaven” he was not speaking of his second coming but of the coming judgment of Jerusalem (Matthew 26:63–64). As Caiaphas and the court well knew, clouds were a common Old Testament symbol pointing to God as the sovereign judge of the nations. In the words of Isaiah, “See, the Lord rides on a swift cloud and is coming to Egypt. The idols of Egypt tremble before him, and the hearts of the Egyptians melt within them” (Isaiah 19:1, emphasis added). Like the Old Testament prophets, Jesus employs the symbolism of
clouds to warn his hearers that as judgment fell on Egypt, so would judgment soon befall Jerusalem.
Furthermore, the “coming on clouds” judgment metaphor was clearly intended for Caiaphas and the first–century crowd who condemned Christ to death. In the words of our Lord, “I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64, emphasis added). The generation that crucified Christ would see the day that he was exalted and enthroned at “the right hand of the Mighty One.”
Finally, Jesus’ “coming on clouds” to judge Jerusalem in the first century points forward to the end of time when he will appear again “to judge the living and the dead” (2 Timothy 4:1; cf. 1 Peter 4:5). Indeed, as Jesus promised, a day is coming when “all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28–29). Or as the writer of Hebrews put it, “he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” (9:28).
For further study, see Hank Hanegraaff, The Apocalypse Code (Nashville:W Publishing Group, 2007).
“Look, he is coming with the clouds and every eye
will see him, even those who pierced him;
and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because
of him. So shall it be! Amen.”