In the New Testament when we read the highly descriptive decreation (or apocalyptic) language associated with the second coming of Christ, often our immediate reaction is to assume that it’s literally referencing thermonuclear or astronomical events. For example:
(Acts 2:19-20) I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
However, when compared to similar type speech in the Old Testament, we quickly realize that this prophetic judgment rhetoric was not to be taken woodenly literal. Rather it regards God’s wrath being poured out on an offending nation through an invading army. In the below passage, the prophet Isaiah announces the desolation of Bozrah the capital of Edom late in the sixth century BC. Notice the imagery.
(Isaiah 34:2-4, 9-10) Come near, you nations, to hear; And heed, you people! Let the earth hear, and all that is in it, the world and all things that come forth from it. 2 For the indignation of the Lord is against all nations, And His fury against all their armies; He has utterly destroyed them, He has given them over to the slaughter. 3 Also their slain shall be thrown out; Their stench shall rise from their corpses, And the mountains shall be melted with their blood. 4 All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, And the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll; All their host shall fall down as the leaf falls from the vine, And as fruit falling from a fig tree.
9 Edom’s streams will be turned into pitch, her dust into burning sulfur; her land will become blazing pitch! 10 It will not be quenched night and day; its smoke will rise forever. From generation to generation it will lie desolate; no one will ever pass through it again.
- Did the heavens actual dissolve?
- Did the sky roll up? Did the streams turn into a thick black tar-like substance?
- Did smoke rise forever?
- Will no one ever set foot on that portion of land again?
The prophetic expectations of Christ’s 2nd Coming in the New Testament were not dissimilar in nature to the comings of God in the Old Testament. God “came down” many times throughout the Old Testament. In 70 A.D. Jesus came in judgment against the apostate nation of Israel in much the same manner as God came in historical Old Testament judgments. And it should be clear that the New Testament was not written in a vacuum. Unlike most Christians today, the 1st century Jews were saturated with an Old Testament understanding.
(Genesis 11:5) But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built.
(Genesis 18:21) I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know.”
(Exodus 3:8) So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites.
(Deuteronomy 33:2) And he said: “The LORD came from Sinai, And dawned on them from Seir; He shone forth from Mount Paran, And He came with ten thousands of saints; From His right hand Came a fiery law for them.
(Psalm 18:9) He bowed the heavens also, and came down With darkness under His feet.
(Psalm 47:5) God has gone up with a shout, The LORD with the sound of a trumpet.
(Psalm 50:3) Our God shall come, and shall not keep silent; A fire shall devour before Him, And it shall be very tempestuous all around Him.
(Psalm 96:13) before the LORD. For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with His truth.
(Psalm 97:5) The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the LORD, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.
(Psalm 144:5) Bow down Your heavens, O LORD, and come down; touch the mountains, and they shall smoke.
(Isaiah 31:4) For thus the LORD has spoken to me: “As a lion roars, and a young lion over his prey (When a multitude of shepherds is summoned against him, He will not be afraid of their voice nor be disturbed by their noise), so the LORD of hosts will come down to fight for Mount Zion and for its hill.
(Isaiah 64:3) When You did awesome things for which we did not look, You came down, the mountains shook at Your presence.
(Isaiah 66:15) For behold, the LORD will come with fire And with His chariots, like a whirlwind, to render His anger with fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire.
(Hosea 8:1) “Set the trumpet to your mouth! He shall come like an eagle against the house of the LORD, because they have transgressed My covenant and rebelled against My law.
(Micah 1:3-4) For behold, the LORD is coming out of His place; He will come down and tread on the high places of the earth. 4 The mountains will melt under Him, and the valleys will split like wax before the fire, like waters poured down a steep place.
God and Clouds
“In the Bible, clouds are used to poetically portray God’s presence and/or judgment. The New Testament Second Coming on the clouds was reminiscent of the Old Testament comings on clouds. Riding on the clouds is a sure sign of Deity.”1
(Exodus 34:5) Now it came to pass, as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the children of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.
(Exodus 19:9) And the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I come to you in the thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and believe you forever.” So Moses told the words of the people to the LORD.
(Exodus 34:5) Now the LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.
(Leviticus 16:2) and the LORD said to Moses: “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at just any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat.
(Numbers 11:25) Then the LORD came down in the cloud, and spoke to him, and took of the Spirit that was upon him, and placed the same upon the seventy elders; and it happened, when the Spirit rested upon them, that they prophesied, although they never did so again.
(Psalm 18:9-12) He bowed the heavens also, and came down With darkness under His feet. 10 And He rode upon a cherub, and flew; He flew upon the wings of the wind. 11 He made darkness His secret place; His canopy around Him was dark waters and thick clouds of the skies. 12 From the brightness before Him, His thick clouds passed with hailstones and coals of fire.
(Psalm 97:2) Clouds and darkness surround Him; Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.
(Psalm 104:3) He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters, who makes the clouds His chariot, Who walks on the wings of the wind,
(Isaiah 19:1) Behold, the LORD rides on a swift cloud, and will come into Egypt; The idols of Egypt will totter at His presence, And the heart of Egypt will melt in its midst.
(Daniel 7:13) “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.
(Joel 2:1-2) Blow the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; For the day of the LORD is coming, for it is at hand: 2 A day of darkness and gloominess, A day of clouds and thick darkness, Like the morning clouds spread over the mountains. A people come, great and strong, the like of whom has never been; Nor will there ever be any such after them, Even for many successive generations.
(Nahum 1:3) 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.
(Zephaniah 1:14-15) The great day of the LORD is near; It is near and hastens quickly. The noise of the day of the LORD is bitter; There the mighty men shall cry out. 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,