In the clouds: the real meaning of the coming of Christ in the clouds of heaven
In one of the most revealing dialogues between God and man, Moses said to the Lord, “if I have found grace in thy sight, shew me now thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight: and consider that this nation is thy people.“ Moses would further raise the question, “For wherein shall it be known here that I and thy people have found grace in thy sight?“ He would answer his own question with another question, “is it not in that thou goest with us?“ Knowing if God would only go with them, Moses added, “so shall we be separated, I and thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth.“ The Lord, in turn, responded, “I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name“ (Ex. 33:13-17).
In the clouds is the means by which God could communicate with Moses.
Perhaps, inspired by this affirmation of grace being extended to him and the intimacy of the Lord stating that he knew him by name, Moses said, “I beseech thee, shew me thy glory.“ It was not that Moses had not “seen“ the Lord for this conversation began when Moses first entered into the tabernacle. Upon entering the tabernacle, a “cloudy pillar descended, and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses . . . and spake unto Moses face to face, as man speaketh unto his friend“ (Ex. 33:9-11). Later, it would also be recorded in the same context of this conversation that “the Lord descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord“ to him (Ex. 34:5).
Again, it was not as if Moses had not seen the Lord, but now his prayer was, “I beseech thee, shew me thy glory.“ The Lord did affirm to Moses, “I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy.“ The Lord quickly added, however, “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.“
Then, after telling Moses to get into a cleft of a rock, he informed him that as he passed by he would cover him with his hand. Upon passing by him, he would then take away his hand. In this manner the Lord told Moses “thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen“ (Ex 33:17-23). Again, simply put, the Lord said, “for there shall no man see me, and live.“
In the clouds is also the means by which man can interact with God.
It seems that the face of God was clothed with a cloud not only in Exodus but also in Revelation. Between the sounding of the sixth trumpet and the seventh trumpet of the seventh seal, John witnessed “another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire“ (Rev. 10:1). The identifiers in this description of the angel from heaven (mighty, cloud, rainbow, sun, and pillars of fire) point to a vision of the glorified risen Christ.
A cloud was used (clothed with a cloud) “to throw all around, that is, invest (with a palisade or with clothing)“ to veil the glory of the mighty angel. Once again, as in the request of Moses to see the glory of God, the implication is that the fullness of his glory was veiled in order to protect the eyes and the mind of mortal man being destroyed from the pure, unadulterated glory of God. As God said to Moses, “there shall no man see me, and live.“
In addition, the phrase “a cloud“ is first recorded after Jesus said to his disciples after his resurrection, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth“ (Acts 1:8). Luke then recorded, “And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.“ The statement is not that Jesus was taken up on a cloud, as is often preached in many modern churches, but rather he was taken up until the disciple could no longer see him because of the cloud. It seems that the closer the risen Christ was getting to the heavenly domain the more important it became for him to be “covered“ with the clouds.
In the clouds is used more frequently with “the coming of Christ in the clouds of heaven.”
The most often use of cloud or clouds is in the phrase “in the clouds“ in regards to the coming of Christ. In the prophecy of Jesus concerning “the sign of [his] coming, and of the end of the age [the meaning of the original word translated world] (Matt. 24:3), he closes his prediction with
Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (Matt. 24:29-30).
In the first part of the prophecy of Jesus in Matthew 24, he predicted the “abomination of desolation“ of the nation, the city, and the temple of Israel (Matt. 24:1-21). The destructiveness of this desolation would be so severe that it would be a “great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever.” With over one million people killed or died from starvation in three years, it would indeed be a great tribulation.
The “tribulation of those days“ to which Jesus referred in Matthew 24:29-31 is not the tribulation of the great tribulation in the destruction of Jerusalem (70 AD). It is the tribulations faced by Jesus in his trial, his torture, and his crucifixion. It is the tribulation of those days in the beginning of the generation (30 AD) that would witness all things being fulfilled as Jesus predicted, “ Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Matt. 24:34).
In the clouds is a veiling of the pure, unadulterated glory of God.
The important factor in this prediction of Jesus was not the tribulations of those days nor the shaking of the heavenly powers. The emphasis of his prophecy at this point was the appearing of the “sign of the Son of man in heaven.“ The emphasis here is actually the beginning of a new age as oppose to the ending of the old age. In this launching of the new age, “the sign of the Son of man in heaven“ would be closely connected to the mourning of “all the tribes of earth,“ and “the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and glory.”
According to Jesus in one of his earlier discourses concerning the need for his physical departure and the coming of another Comforter, the Holy Spirit (John 14:1-29), he declared that the “sign of the Son of man in heaven,“ would be the descent of the Holy Spirit on the first Jewish Pentecost after his resurrection (John 14:19-20). In other words, his disciple would know that the risen Jesus had ascended into the heavenly domain to be with his heavenly Father when they experienced the promise of the Holy Spirit and its consequential baptism (1 Pet. 1:3-4). The “sign of the Son of man in heaven“ was the coming of the Holy Spirit.
When the sign of the Son of man in heaven occurred, “then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn“ as they are brought under the convicting power of the Holy Spirit. Again, Jesus also stated this in his “another Comforter“ discourse,
Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment (John 16:7-8).
Then, after predicting that the sign of the Son of man in heaven would appear and all the tribes of the earth morn, Jesus foretold that “they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.“ Just as the mighty angel in John’s vision had said that “the mystery of God should be finished” (Rev. 10:7), Jesus is predicting that the time of this completion of the mystery of God would be when “they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.“
It is unfortunate that many in the modern church (middle 1800 to the present) miss the significant of this inauguration of the new age because of misunderstanding the phrase “in the clouds of heaven.“ The word clouds or cloud in reference to Jesus coming or going in the clouds, as illustrated in “they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven,“ is used in the New Testament (KJV) seven times and one time in reference to the believers “ caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air“ (1 Thess. 4:27).
It is interesting to note, in Paul’s statement to the Thessalonians, the word air does not mean atmosphere but “to breathe unconsciously, that is, [take breaths].“ It implies that when the believer meets Jesus, moves from the control of the earthly realm to the control of the heavenly realm (“in the clouds“), and remains with him then Jesus is recognized as the breath of the believer’s life. As long as the Jesus is recognized as the breath of life for believers they “shall ever be with the Lord.“
In the clouds is the means by which believers can experience the coming of Christ.
Finally, to illustrate the misunderstanding of many in the modern church, the phrase “in the clouds of heaven“ is used in the statement, “and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.“ It needs to be emphasized that the they in “they shall see the Son of man coming“ is the they that are a part of “this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled“ (Matt. 24:34). The generation between the resurrection of Christ and the death of Jewish sacrificial offerings in the temple would “see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and glory.“
The use of clouds, as it relates to the “coming of the Son of man in the clouds,“ is not a reference to the means of transportation for Jesus coming or going. It is a reference to the risen glorified Christ being veiled with clouds, or in other words, not seen by the physical eye of man. It ultimately is, in the inauguration of the new age in the prophecy of Jesus, a reference to the spiritual coming of Christ through the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in power and great glory fifty days after his death, his resurrection, and his ascension. It is the inauguration of the new age of which Jesus said, “This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled“ (Matt. 24:34).
Those early followers of Jesus experiencing the first recorded instance of the promised of the Holy Spirit and its consequential “baptism in the Spirit“ knew that they had experienced something new. Although they could not see the risen Christ for he was “in the clouds,“ they no doubt knew they were witnessing the beginning of a new experience “the coming of Christ into their life with power and great glory.“
With the coming of the new age, all believers since the completion of the mystery of God (life of the new age coming out of the death of the old age) can through Christ be made “unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:10). Although we experience this life we live in a physical, earthly world, we do not have to be of this world. We can experience our life living of the heavenly realm, in the clouds. We can be kingdom saints living in the power and the great glory of the Son of man coming into our world in every situation to bring deliverance. The question must be raised, “Are we living far beneath our privilege as kingdom saints?“
Why wait, as many believe, to the coming of the next life, when we can experience all the power and the glory of the kingdom of God with the coming of Christ in this life now. Our prayer should continually be “come Lord Jesus.“