Clouds Of GlorySeries: An Eschatological Mix
CLOUDS OF GLORY
Sermon By Terry Siverd / September 05, 2021 / Cortland Church of Christ
It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood. We welcome you to this morning's livestream. One aspect of worshiping God is hearing His word. We're grateful for your decision to join us for today's sermon. Choosing to listen to a sermon implies a willingness to open one's heart and mind so as to be instructed by The Word. Being a keen listener requires humility - - an eagerness to intentionally place ourselves under the teachings of Scripture. As always, we encourage all of you to join with us today in searching the Scriptures.
One cannot delve into the subject of eschatology without encountering “clouds”. In fact, cloud-language seems to be embedded in eschatology. Because it is rooted in the work of our Holy God, eschatology can be categorized as a mysterium tremendum. This term was coined by a 20th German scholar, Rudolf Otto, in speaking of the holiness of God. Although this term translates as a “tremendous mystery”, we need not conclude that this mystery is beyond knowing. Thankfully, the sacred writings educate and inform us about these eschatological mysteries.
In writing about time-of-the-end matters, the author of Hebrews makes a rather stark statement (Heb.10:31) - - It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. He then urges his readers who were living in those last days (Heb.1:2) of the Old Covenant realm saying (Heb.10:32f) - - Remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings...Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction...
The language of the “clouds” was employed to communicate not only the holiness of God, but also His power. i.e., His strength, authority, majesty and glory. These thoughts are encapsulated in the poetry of the psalmists. Ps.68:34 declares: Ascribe strength to God; His majesty is over Israel. And His strength is in the clouds/skies. Ps.104:3b reads, He makes the clouds His chariot; He walks upon the wings of the wind.
In addition to the poetic writings of the the Old Testament, we also meet this cloud-language in the Law & Prophets. Throughout Israel's forty-years wilderness journey we read of God's promised presence with them. Ex.13:21-22 records: And the Lord was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people. During the wilderness trek, when dietary complaints arose (manna & quail), Moses told Aaron to address the people. Ex.16:10f notes, It came about as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the sons of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and behold the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud...I have heard your grumblings. During their wilderness journey God gave His laws to Israel. Listen to how they were revealed (Ex.19:9-10 & 16) - - After relaying a pledge of fidelity from the people, Moses descended the mountain to deliver God's response. And the Lord said to Moses. 'Behold I shall come to you in a thick cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak to you, and may also believe...On the third day, when it was morning there was thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Ex.24 tells of Moses' receiving the Ten Commandments (Ex.24:15-17) - - When Moses ascended the mountain, the cloud covered the mountain. And the glory of the Lord rested on Mount Sinai, the the cloud covered it for six days; and on the seventh days He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud. And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the mountain top. Cloud language is also prevalent in descriptions of the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant. A cloud hovered above the tabernacle. When the cloud moved, Israel followed. cf. Ex.40:34-35 & 1Kgs.8:11. After the temple was built, the presence of God was continually recognized by the cloud. Ezk.10:4
This cloud terminology is seen in the prophetic writings of the Old Testament. In speaking of the kingdom of Christ, Dan.7:13-14 states, I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and He was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away... Cloud-language also appears in the Old Testament in various judgment scenes. Wars were often accompanied by horses and chariots which stirred up great clouds of dust. Isa.19:1 records an oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud, and is about to come to Egypt. Ezekiel adds (Ezk.32:7) - - When I extinguish you, I will cover the heavens, and darken their stars; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not gives its light. In declaring God's judgment against Nineveh, Nahum 1:3 states, The Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. In whirlwind and storm is His way, and clouds are the dust beneath His feet. In predicting judgment on ancient Jerusalem the prophet Jeremiah announces (Jer.4:13) - - Behold, he goes up like clouds, and his chariots like the whirlwind; His horses are swifter than eagles. Woe to us, for we are ruined.
These numerous Old Testament citations constitute the background for what we read in the New Testament. We should not be surprised to observe this clouds of glory language being applied to the coming of Christ. In the Olivet discourse in Mk.13:26 (also Mt.24:30 & Lk.21:27), we read Jesus saying - - Then they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with great power and glory. Listen to this exchange between Jesus and the Jewish high priest in Mk.14:62 (also Mt.26:64) - - Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One? And Jesus said, 'I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of God and coming with the clouds of heaven.' The book of Revelation opens with an announcement about things shortly to take place (1:1)...the time is near (1:3). And then the prologue in 1:7 hastens to make the following declaration: Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him... cf. Rev.1:7 with 14:15-16 & 19:11 and 1Thess.4:17 & 2Thess.2:8.
These coming-of-Christ passages are all nestled in the context of the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.
Did people actually SEE Jesus coming on the clouds? Two options - - to see optically/visually … to see mentally/with the mind's eye. Lk.17:20-21 provides Jesus' response to a question posed by the Pharisees (when was the kingdom of God coming?). Jesus answered saying, The kingdom of heaven is not coming with signs to be observed...behold it is in your midst. These words appear to address the “inward” kingdom of God more than they do the destruction of the temple. In Acts 2:19 Peter quoted Joel's prophecy about the last days, saying that God would grant wonders in the sky above. On the day of Pentecost, Acts 2:3 states, There appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves and they rested on each one of (the apostles).
2Kgs.6:8ff tells the story of a battle between the King of Aram and the Kind of Israel. The king of Aram was flummoxed because it seemed like someone was leaking his battle plans to Israel. One of his servants told him that the “problem” was the prophet Elisha (he tells the king of Israel the words you speak in your bedroom). So the king sent horses and chariots and a great army and they surrounded the city where Eilsha was. Elisha's servant awaken in the morning and he witnessed the army encircling the city and he was mortified. The servant said to Elisha, 'Alas, my master! What shall we do?' Elijah told him, 'Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.' Then Elisha prayed and said, 'O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.' And the Lord opened the servant's eyes, and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
The Jewish historian Josephus who witnessed the fall of Jerusalem made a similar claim regarding the events of AD 70. ...A certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared; I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals... chairots and troops of soldier in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding the cities.