Coming on the Clouds

After predicting the destruction of the Temple, Jesus described the coming of the “Son of Man” at the end of the age. He said nothing about how much time would pass between the Temple’s demise and his arrival. However, in that interim period, his disciples must beware of the “many deceivers” who disseminate false information about his return and the consummation of the present age.

When he does arrive, there will be no mistaking the event since it will be accompanied by celestial and terrestrial upheaval, and all humanity will witness it (“All the tribes of the earth” - Mark 13:21-27).

Arrival Sun - Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash
[Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash]

The paragraph begins with the clause, “
and then” (kai tote). In the ‘Olivet Discourse’, the Greek adverb from which this term is translated consistently marks changes in the subject matter in his discussion, and here, he moves to matters that will occur AFTER the appearance of the “Abomination of Desolation” and the consequent destruction of the Temple.

At that time, “there will arise false Christs and false prophets and show SIGNS AND WONDERS.” His reference to “signs and wonders” echoes the instructions of Moses given to Israel concerning false prophets:

  • (Deuteronomy 13:1-3) – “If there arise in the midst of you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and HE GIVES YOU A SIGN OR A WONDER, and the sign or the wonder come to pass of which he spoke to you, saying, Let us go after other gods, which you have not known, and let us serve them; you will not hearken to the words of that prophet.

In the Septuagint version of the passage in Deuteronomy, the two Greek words translated as “signs and wonders” match the Greek terms found on the lips of Jesus for “signs and wonders,” or semeia kai terata.

While he identified these deceivers as “false prophets,” nowhere did he stipulate that their miracles would not be genuine. Like Moses, he forewarned his disciples (“I have told you all things beforehand”), and the goal of the “false prophets” is to mislead the people of God.

The clause translated as “take heed” is the same one employed at the start of the Discourse when Jesus warned about coming “deceivers” who operate in his name. Here, they are identified as “false prophets and false christs” who propagate false information about his return.

When he does arrive, “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give her light.” His pictorial language echoes several Old Testament passages about the “Day of Yahweh” when God judges His enemies and vindicates His saints. The connection of Christ’s future coming to the “Day of the Lord” is common in the New Testament - (Joel 2:30-32, Isaiah 13:10, 1 Corinthians 1:18, 2 Thessalonians 5:1-2, 2 Peter 3:3-12, Revelation 6:12-17).

JUDGMENT AND DELIVERANCE


While the element of judgment is present in his description of that day, the stress is on the deliverance of the “elect” – “He will send forth the angels and will gather together his elect.” The New Testament elsewhere applies the term “elect” to the faithful followers of Jesus – (Luke 18:7, Romans 8:33, Colossians 3:12, 1 Timothy 5:21, 2 Timothy 2:10, Titus 1:1, 1 Peter 1:1, 2:4- 9).

On that day, the “stars will fall from heaven.” Celestial upheaval is a common theme in prophecies about the “Day of the Lord.” Whether the description in the present passage is literal or metaphorical, it points to chaotic events that will accompany his return.

All men and women on the Earth will “see the Son of Man coming on clouds with great power and glory.” This statement alludes to a key passage in the Book of Daniel that is applied frequently in the New Testament to the future coming of Jesus - (Daniel 7:13-14).

In Daniel, the “Son of Man” is presented as “coming” to receive his “everlasting kingdom,” a realm that will include men from “all the nations.”  In the ‘Olivet Discourse,’ Jesus arrives “on the clouds” to gather his “elect” from the “uttermost parts of the Earth.”

Who are the men who will “see the Son of Man coming” referred to in the passage with the pronoun “they”? Previously, Jesus warned - “THEY will deliver you up to councils, and in synagogues, you will be beaten,” and “THEY will deliver you up” for trial and judgment, and “THEY will deceive, if possible, the elect.”

In this context, the pronoun “they” refers to the opponents of the “elect,” including the “false prophets” and “false messiahs” who attempted to deceive them. Thus, that day will mean the judgment of these deceivers and of the persecutors of God’s “elect” - (Isaiah 60:1-3, 14, Revelation 3:9-10).

Clouds Crimea - Photo by Alexey Fedenkov on Unsplash
[Photo by Alexey Fedenkov on Unsplash]

However, in addition to judging his enemies, Jesus will “
gather together his elect from the uttermost part of the earth.” This statement echoes promises from a messianic prophecy found in the Book of Isaiah:

  • (Isaiah 11:1, 10-12) – “And there will come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots will bear fruit… And he will set up an ensign for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and GATHER TOGETHER the dispersed of Judah FROM THE FOUR CORNERS OF THE EARTH.”

Thus, Jesus applied the language of gathering the remnant of Israel out of the nations to his disciples or “elect” whom he would gather to himself when he arrived “on the clouds of Heaven,” rather than just to the tribes of Israel.



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