Terry Cropper is a careful and diligent student of God’s word and an excellent writer. I have shared articles by him in the past, and am glad to offer another one now. It is about Christ being the fulfillment of all of the types and anti-types of the Old Testament. This is a rich study, so enjoy!
Almost every person I have met knows about Jesus coming in the clouds in the New Testament. However when it comes to comparing the nature of God’s coming in the Old Testament to the nature of Jesus coming in the New Testament everything they have learned goes out the window.
Many Christians, especially those who are very fond of “endtime prophecy,” insist on interpreting the New Testament prophetic prophecy concerning the coming of Christ isolated from the Old Testament. The idea of God coming on the clouds in judgement is not unique to the New Testament passages.
I urge you to examine other Old Testament passages of scripture that speak of the same topic or issue. Those texts will often shed some light on the text you’re confused about. A correct interpretation of scripture will always be consistent with the rest of the scriptures. Scripture is the best interpreter of itself.
Because that is the case, the first commentary you should consult on a passage is what the rest of the Scriptures have to say on the topic being examined. So, the first guideline or principle for rightly dividing the Word: is “Let Scripture interpret Scripture” which is incredibly simple and yet so important to put into practice!
So, be careful not to base your conclusions, or build your interpretation of scripture on the New Testament alone, but on Scripture as a whole. Just as you cannot understand the book of Revelation until you know where all the signs and symbols are used throughout the Old Testament, so too it is with the (nature of the coming of Jesus on the clouds of heaven). To explore what is going on, we need to spend a little time thinking about ‘clouds’ and what it means to be ‘coming’ with them.
A cloud (or clouds) first feature prominently in the exodus narrative, as God travels with his people in the form of a ‘pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night’ (Exodus 13.21). There is no doubt that this symbolizes God’s presence in power, protecting his people and confounding the Egyptian army.
In later narratives, it is often ‘clouds’ that signify God’s action and (power in judgment). It is within this symbolic context that we see the development of the language of ‘coming with the clouds in judgement’ in the prophetic prophecy. When God comes in judgement to Egypt, he ‘rides on a swift cloud.’ Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud, and is about to come to Egypt. The idol of Egypt will tremble at His presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them. (Isaiah 19:1). Egypt did receive this judgment at the hands of the Assyrians. (Isaiah 20:1-6) This did not involve a literal coming of God on the clouds. When God used the means of a nation or people to carry out a judgment. He was said to come on the clouds.
From this scripture we observe God’s coming on the clouds was not a world-ending event. Zephaniah 1:15. That day is a day of wrath, A day of trouble and distress, A day of devastation and desolation, A day of darkness and gloominess, A day of clouds and thick darkness, This prophecy concerns the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BC. So God ‘makes the clouds his chariots’ as a symbolic expression of his presence and power. (Psalm 104.3; Jeremiah 4:13)
Only the God of Israel could ride the clouds of heaven in judgement. Nahum 1-2 God is jealous, and the LORD avenges; The LORD avenges and is furious. The LORD will take vengeance on His adversaries, And He reserves wrath for His enemies; 3 The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, And will not at all acquit the wicked. The LORD has His way In the whirlwind and in the storm, And the clouds are the dust of His feet. See also (Psalms 104:1-3; Isaiah 19:1-3; Joel 2:1-2) The Biblical references of clouds and God’s presence in the Bible go hand in hand.
This apocalyptic language was well known to all in the Jewish and early Christian communities. This language was studied by all the congregation of Israel on the Sabbath in the synagogue. It was spoken in homes and by the rulers of Israel. This is the reason Jesus chose to use this apocalyptic language as He described His SOON return in judgement to the people of His day.
Jesus repeatedly calls himself the “Son of Man” throughout his ministry, which is a veiled reference to what Daniel saw. For a typical Jew of the first century, hearing Jesus call himself the Son of the living God, would have been ambiguous – even shocking.
When Caiaphas the high priest was questioning Jesus during his arrest, he asked him bluntly if he was the Messiah (Matthew 26:63-65), and how did Jesus answer? Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Jesus was making a reference to the vision of (Daniel 7:13-14) in divine terms.
The book of Daniel contains the crucial foundational passages concerning Israel and the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. In this chapters you will find one of the most dominant prophecies of the coming of Christ and His everlasting kingdom ever recorded.
Daniel 7:13-14 “I was watching in the night visions, And behold, One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, And they brought Him near before Him. 14 Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one Which shall not be destroyed.
The reaction of the High Priest says it all: Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has blasphemed!” This was more than just an idle phrase, this was Jesus claiming to be Israel’s Messiah and making himself equal to God and the Jewish leaders understood this which is why they got so angry. This is why they voted that night to crucify Him the next morning.
Only the God of Israel was promised to come with the clouds of heaven to the Ancient of Days to set up an everlasting Kingdom. When Jesus mentioned he was coming in clouds the flashing images triggered the high priest and it was more then he could handle. Caiaphas also know this was the language of judgment from his Old Testament scriptures
The promised kingdom in Daniel is fulfilled in the coming of Jesus and the establishment of His kingdom. It is “now and not to come” in that it is already present with the coming of Jesus. It was consummated with the New Covenant and when He returned to judge Jerusalem in the glory of His Parousia.” Greek (παρουσία) the technical word ‘for the arrival or visit.
We proclaim the kingdom of God when we preach the death of Jesus for our sins and His resurrection. We enter the kingdom when we repent and put our faith in Christ.
There is no way to biblically separate the event of the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven with an everlasting dominion, or kingdom when they are the same event in scripture. They are to be accomplished during the very same time frame according to scripture. The “Parousia, of Christ” was tremendous and frightening during the destruction of Jerusalem and the consummation of the kingdom in A.D 70 but no one literally saw Jesus riding on a literal cloud.
Many modern skeptics, such as Bertrand Russell have believed Jesus to be a false prophet because he predicted his “coming on clouds” within the lifetime of his disciples. He did not follow the simple rule of hermeneutics by letting scripture interpret scripture.
Why I Am Not a Christian (1927)* By Bertrand Russell
DEFECTS IN CHRIST’S TEACHING
Having granted the excellence of these maxims, I come to certain points in which I do not believe that one can grant either the superlative wisdom or the superlative goodness of Christ as depicted in the Gospels; and here I may say that one is not concerned with the historical question. Historically it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if He did we do not know anything about Him, so that I am not concerned with the historical question, which is a very difficult one. I am concerned with Christ as He appears in the Gospels, taking the Gospel narrative as it stands, and there one does find some things that do not seem to be very wise. For one thing, He certainly thought that His second coming would occur in clouds of glory before the death of all the people who were living at that time. There are a great many texts that prove that. He says, for instance: ‘Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of Man be come.’
Then He says: ‘There are some standing here which shall not taste death till the Son of Man comes into His kingdom’; and there are a lot of places where it is quite clear that He believed that His second coming would happen during the lifetime of many then living. That was the belief of His earlier followers, and it was the basis of a good deal of His moral teaching. When He said, ‘Take no thought for the morrow,’ and things of that sort, it was very largely because He thought that the second coming was going to be very soon, and that all ordinary mundane affairs did not count.
I have, as a matter of fact, known some Christians who did believe that the second coming was imminent. I knew a parson who frightened his congregation terribly by telling them that the second coming was very imminent indeed, but they were much consoled when they found that he was planting trees in his garden. The early Christians did really believe it, and they did abstain from such things as planting trees in their gardens, because they did accept from Christ the belief that the second coming was imminent. In that respect clearly He was not so wise as some other people have been, and he was certainly not superlatively wise.
Bertrand Russell did not follow the simple rule of hermeneutics by letting scripture interpret scripture.
God has given the nation of Israel and us a way to tell a false prophet.
Biblical Guidelines for recognizing false prophets.
Deuteronomy 18:20-22 But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. 21 And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken? 22 When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.
In Deuteronomy 18:21,22 we are told that if a prophet’s prediction does not come to pass, that forever settles it. He is a false prophet and we are to never respect him as a true prophet. It does not matter how many of his predictions had previously come to pass, one strike and he’s out. The penalty for that was death (Deuteronomy 18:20) under the old covenant. A true prophet always hears infallibly from God. That is the standard the Old Testament set for those who would presume to speak in the name of the Lord. Perhaps God was trying to discourage false prophets. If we applied the same standards today, do you think so many people would dare to call themselves prophets?
Jesus is not a false prophet He is the God that cannot lie and he returned during the first century exactly as he said He would in the clouds of heaven in judgement as he did in the Old Testament.