The Second Advent – Part 2
2.3 What is the Meaning of the Verse
that Christ Will Return on the Clouds?
Since Christ’s return will take place through his birth on earth, what can be the meaning of the biblical prophecies that he will come on the clouds? To probe into this matter, we must first investigate what the clouds represent. The following passage is typical:
According to this verse, everyone should be able to see Christ when he returns. When St. Stephen was martyred, only he and those faithful Christians whose spiritual senses were open were able to see Jesus sitting at the right hand of God.52(Acts 7:55)CEV|KJ|NI Likewise, if Jesus is to descend from the spirit world as a spirit, then only those believers whose spiritual senses are open will be able to see him; thus not every eye would see Christ when he comes again. The biblical prophecy that everyone will see the Lord can be fulfilled only if he returns in the flesh. Since a body of flesh cannot ride on the clouds, the clouds in the verse must symbolize something else.
In the same passage, it is also written that even those who pierced Jesus will see his return. Those who pierced Jesus were Roman soldiers. However, those Roman soldiers will not be able to see the Lord at his return. To behold the returning Lord, those soldiers must be resurrected; but according to the Bible, those who will be resurrected at Christ’s return are only those faithful Christians who participate in the first resurrection. The rest of the spirits will be resurrected only after the passage of “a thousand years” in the Kingdom.53(Rom. 2:4-5)CEV|KJ|NI Therefore, “every one who pierced him” must be a metaphor describing some other group of people, not the Roman soldiers. In fact, it refers to those Christians alive at the time of the Second Advent who hold fast to the belief that Jesus will return on the clouds. When Christ returns to the earth through a humble birth contrary to their expectation, they will not recognize him but will persecute him. If “every one who pierced him” is a metaphor, then the clouds in the same verse should also be metaphorical.
What do the clouds actually symbolize? Clouds are formed by the evaporation of impure water from the earth. In the Bible, water often symbolizes fallen people.54(Rev. 17:15)CEV|KJ|NI; (Ps. 144:7)CEV|KJ|NI We may deduce that clouds symbolize devout Christians whose hearts dwell in heaven and not on the earth because they have been reborn and raised from their fallen state. The Bible and other sacred scriptures also use the symbolism of clouds to indicate the multitudes.55(Heb. 12:1)CEV|KJ|NI; (cf. Ezek. 38:9)CEV|KJ|NI We sometimes find this figure of speech used in casual conversation. In Moses’ course, the pillar of cloud which guided the Israelites by day represented Jesus, who was to come as the leader of Israel; the pillar of fire by night represented the Holy Spirit who, as Jesus’ counterpart, would guide Israel by the fire of inspiration. We can conclude that Jesus’ coming on the clouds signifies that he will emerge from among a group of reborn believers to become the leader of Christians, the Second Israel. Recall that when Jesus was asked about the place of his return, he replied, “Where the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.”56(Luke 17:37)CEV|KJ|NI Jesus meant by this that he will return to the place where faithful believers have gathered, which basically signifies the same thing as the biblical prophecy that Christ will return on the clouds.
When we interpret the clouds metaphorically in this way, it is evident that at his First Coming Jesus himself symbolically came down from Heaven on the clouds. It is written, “The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven,”57(I Cor. 15:47)CEV|KJ|NI and “No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man.”58(John 3:13)CEV|KJ|NI Even though Jesus was born on the earth, from the standpoint of the providence and with regard to his true value, he indeed came from Heaven. This is also the true meaning of the prophecy in Daniel59(Dan. 7:13)CEV|KJ|NI which foretold that Jesus would come on the clouds.
There are two reasons why Jesus prophesied that the Lord will return on the clouds. First, it was to prevent the delusions of antichrists from creating confusion among believers. If Jesus revealed plainly that he would return through a physical birth, then it would have been impossible to prevent false messiahs from causing great confusion. Since Jesus emerged as the Messiah from a humble background, anyone from any social stratum with a certain level of spirituality could claim to be his Second Advent and dazzle the world with a great delusion. Fortunately, since most Christians have expected Christ to return on the clouds and have fixed their gaze upon the sky, this turmoil has been largely avoided. Now, however, since the time is full, the truth that Christ will return through a physical birth must be revealed.
Second, it was to encourage Christians who were walking a difficult path of faith. There are other occasions when Jesus gave paradoxical words to encourage his followers to accomplish God’s Will as rapidly as possible. For example, he said, “Truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel, before the Son of man comes.”60(Matt. 10:23)CEV|KJ|NI This led his disciples to believe that the Second Advent would take place in the near future. When Jesus told Peter of his approaching martyrdom, Peter asked him what would become of the disciple John. Jesus replied, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”61(John 21:22)CEV|KJ|NI Jesus also said, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.”62(Matt. 16:28)CEV|KJ|NI These sayings led the disciples to think they would meet the returning Jesus in their lifetime.
The hope of Jesus’ imminent return inflamed the zeal of his disciples and gave them the strength to overcome persecution by Judaism and the Roman Empire. Encouraged by the ardent hope of the Second Advent, they were filled with the Holy Spirit63(Acts 2:1-4)CEV|KJ|NI and established the early Christian Church, even amidst great adversity. Jesus wanted to inspire and encourage his disciples, who would be carrying a heavy cross. For this reason, he prophesied that he would come on the clouds in the power and glory of God and accomplish everything at lightning speed.
Where Will Christ Return?
If Christ comes again as a man born on the earth, he will certainly be born among a people who are chosen by God in accordance with His predestination. Where is the place God has chosen for Christ’s return? Who are the people chosen to receive him?
Some Christians expect that Christ will come again among the Jewish people, based on several passages from the Bible: “And I heard the number of the sealed, a 144,000 sealed, out of every tribe of the sons of Israel,”64(Rev. 7:4)CEV|KJ|NI and “Truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel, before the Son of man comes.”65(Matt. 10:23)CEV|KJ|NI; (cf. Matt. 16:28)CEV|KJ|NI However, to interpret these verses in this way is to misunderstand God’s providence.
On this matter, Jesus uttered the parable of the vineyard:
“Hear another parable. There was a householder who planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country. When the season of fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants, to get his fruit; and the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first; and they did the same to them. Afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” Jesus said to them . . . “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it.” –Matt. 21:33-43CEV|KJ|NI
In this parable, the householder represents God, the vineyard represents God’s work, the tenants entrusted with the work represent the Jewish people, the servants represent the prophets, the son of the householder represents Jesus, and the other tenants who harvest the fruits represent some other nation which can receive Christ at the Second Advent and realize God’s Will. By this parable, Jesus conveyed that he will not come again to the people who persecuted him. God will take away the mission previously entrusted to them and give it to another people who can produce its fruits upon Christ’s return.
Why, then, does the Bible seem to portray Christ as returning to Israel? To answer this question, we must first inquire as to the meaning of Israel. “Israel” means the one who has prevailed. Jacob received this name upon defeating the angel who wrestled with him at the ford of Jabbok.66(Gen. 32:28)CEV|KJ|NI Jacob wrestled with the angel to secure the position of Abel for the foundation of substance. By successfully securing the position of Abel and making the substantial offering, Jacob established the family foundation for the Messiah. His descendants, who inherited the responsibility for God’s providence upon this foundation, are called Israel or the chosen people. The term “Israel” thus signifies the people of God who have triumphed through their faith and does not necessarily apply to everyone who comes out of Jacob’s lineage. Thus, John the Baptist said to the Jews, “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”67(Matt. 3:9)CEV|KJ|NI Moreover, St. Paul said, “For he is not a real Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal,”68(Rom. 2:28-29)CEV|KJ|NIand “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.”69(Rom. 9:6)CEV|KJ|NI They reproached those Jews who boasted that they were the chosen people based only on their lineal connection to Abraham, even though they were not in fact living according to the Will of God.
It can be said that the descendants of Jacob were Israel at the time of their departure from Egypt under Moses’ leadership, but they no longer were when they turned against God in the wilderness. Therefore, God swept them away in the wilderness and led only the younger generation into Canaan; these God regarded as the true Israel. Of the descendants of Abraham who entered the land of Canaan, the ten tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel, who transgressed against God, perished because they lost their qualification as God’s chosen people. Only the two tribes of the southern kingdom of Judah, who continued to uphold the Will of God, remained the chosen people who could eventually receive Jesus. Nevertheless, when they led Jesus to the cross, they also lost their qualification to be the people centrally responsible for God’s providence.
Who became the chosen people after Jesus’ crucifixion? They were none other than the Christians who inherited the faith of Abraham and took on the mission which Abraham’s descendants did not complete. St. Paul wrote, “Through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous,”70(Rom. 11:11)CEV|KJ|NI testifying that the center of God’s providence of restoration had shifted from the Jews to the Gentiles.71(Acts 13:46)CEV|KJ|NI Therefore, the chosen people who should lay the foundation for Christ at the Second Advent are not the descendants of Abraham, but rather the Christians who have inherited the faith of Abraham.
As Jesus explained through the parable of the vineyard,72(Matt. 21:33-43)CEV|KJ|NI when the Jewish people, like the tenants in the parable who killed the son of their master, led Jesus to the cross, they lost their providential mission. Which nation, then, will inherit the work of God and bear its fruits? The Bible suggests that this nation is in the East.
The Book of Revelation describes the opening of a scroll sealed with seven seals:
And I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals; and I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I wept much that no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. Then one of the elders said to me, “Weep not; lo, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” –Rev. 5:1-5CEV|KJ|NI
The Lion of the tribe of Judah signifies Christ; it is he who will open the seven seals in the Last Days. After six of the seals are opened:
Then I saw another angel ascend from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice . . . saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God upon their foreheads.” And I heard the number of the sealed, a hundred and forty-four thousand. –Rev. 7:2-4CEV|KJ|NI
This indicates that the seal of the living God will be placed on the foreheads of the 144,000 in the East, where the sun rises. These chosen ones will accompany the Lamb at his return.73(Rev. 14:1)CEV|KJ|NI We can thus infer that the nation which will inherit the work of God and bear its fruit for the sake of the Second Advent is in the East. There Christ will be born and received by the 144,000 elect of God. Which among the nations of the East is chosen to receive the Lord?