Many modern skeptics, who follow 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). Like the Old Testament prophets, Jesus employed the symbolism of clouds to warn His hearers that just 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). 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 Saint Paul put it in the book of Hebrews, Jesus “will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” (9:28).
Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.
Revelation 1:7 NKJV
For further study, see Hank Hanegraaff, The Apocalypse Code: Find Out What the Bible Really Says About the End Times . . . and Why It Matters Today (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2007).
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