The scriptural presentation throughout this booklet is that Jesus comes first to his household, unknown to the world; that his presence in the earth is gradually felt in world political affairs, and militarily in Arabia and the South; then he reveals himself with terrific power in the presence of the armies of the world assembled in the land of Israel.
Thus will I magnify myself, and sanctify myself; and I will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am Yahweh (Ezek. 38:23). After this wonderful deliverance the Jews in the land will recognise him as Jesus of Nazareth, their Messiah (Zech. 12); he will sit upon his throne in Jerusalem; and as the Lamb on Mount Zion will demand the obedience of the world (Rev. 14:1, 6-8). Opposition is gradually overcome, until Yahweh is king over all the earth. By this progress of events the sign-language of Revelation 1:7, every eye shall see him is fulfilled.
A Literal or Figurative Interpretation
This understanding of events is strongly rejected by some writers today. They regard every eye shall see him as literally fulfilled as Jesus is returning from heaven to earth. Quoting: In short, then, the sign will be Jesus himself coming in the vivid visible Glory of God, and seen in the sky by all the world as he comes to his inheritance. If this comes to pass literally the effect on the nations of the world will be electric. Imagine the entire globe wrapped in gloom. As Jesus approaches the earth in radiant splendour, the visible manifestation of the Shekinah Glory, allliterally allthe people of the world will witness this unique, mysterious, startling spectacle (The Last Days, H.A. Whittaker).
There is strong disagreement with the whole concept of Christ coming to his household first. This topic of the actual coming of Christ has been much befogged by strange nebulous ideas of a two-fold manifestationfirst, in secret to his saints, and then in full power and majesty to his enemies. This is another notion which can hardly be too strongly reprobated. Such is Bro. Whittakers respect for the standard idea held by Christadelphians from the time of Bro. Thomas to the present. The literal view expressed by Bro. Whittaker was well-known to Bro. Thomas. One will find the literal coming in clouds in various evangelical writings throughout the last century. Tregelles in his book The Hope of Christs Second Coming( 1864) is mainly concerned with Christs visible coming in clouds, and the wrongness of what he calls the secret rapture. Like Bro. Whittaker, he quotes Acts 1:19, Matt. 24:30-31, in support of his view.
Now despite Bro. Whittakers reprobation of the idea of Christ first coming to his household, our extensive consideration of the prophets has shown that this is the case. As all Scripture is in harmony, one part with another, there must be something wrong in using Every eye shall see him, Behold he cometh with clouds to justify the idea of a miraculous appearance of Jesus to the world as he physically returns to the earth. What is the correct interpretation of this passage of scripture, so that it harmonises with the rest of scripture?
Every Eye shall See him, and they also which Pierced him (Rev. 1:7)
There are two principles of interpretation of general application in the book of Revelation, and to this verse in particular. The first is that the unfolding of the prophecy is not necessarily in chronological order, and that generally there is a summary of intention, followed by the detail. This means that although Behold he cometh with clouds and every eye shall see him occurs in the first chapter, it does not follow that this is the first thing to actually happen. Rather, in chapter one we have a summary of what the Revelation intends to accomplish, and the rest of the book gives the detail. Looking at the opening section in chapter one, it first mentions matters to do with the believerredeemed by the blood of Jesus, made kings and priests; then we have the verse in question: Behold he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all the kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen; then the conclusion of the section: I am Alpha and Omega,...saith the Lord which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty. Clearly such a brief but comprehensive section is summary; it is not a detail of the opening act of Revelation. Every eye shall see him is not a happening as Jesus arrives back in the earth.
The second principle is that the Revelation is a book of sign, and to ignore this is to create confusion. Verse 1 of the first chapter tells us that Jesus signifiedshowed by signthe matters to John by his angel. We ought therefore to understand every eye seeing, coming with clouds, they which pierced him in a symbolic and not literal sense. Frequently the Revelation draws on Old Testament places and happenings for its figures or signs. The literal Jerusalem becomes the symbolic Holy City, New Jerusalem, coming down from heaven; the literal Jezebel, wife of Ahab, becomes the symbol of a class of false teachers in Thyatira; the seven lampstands of the Mosaic tabernacle become the symbol of the saints illuminating the Gentile darkness; the literal trees with medicinal properties that in the future will grow by the river flowing from Zion (Ezek. 47:12), become the symbolic trees by the river of water of life proceeding from the throne of God and the Lamb in Revelation, chapter 22. So in the text before us. The literal of the matter is stated in Zechariah chapter 12. When Jesus and the saints save Jerusalem from the hand of the enemy, Israel shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him (Zech. 12:10). This will be an actual happening. But when we find the words in the Revelation we must give the idea a larger and more figurative sense. The book of Revelation has to do generally with the Roman Gentile world, and not with the nation of Israel, and its symbols apply to this Gentile world, though they are frequently drawn from the life of Israel, in the Old Testament writings. What then is the antitype of Israel looking on him whom they have pierced and mourning? It is the similar experience through which all Christendom will go. As those in the land will have been through great distress, and look back on the centuries of judgment because their fathers pierced Messiah, so the Gentiles will go through such distress and judgments that they too will look on him whom they have pierced and mourn. How can it be said they have pierced him? Jesus says what is done to his little ones, is done to him. He is the Head, the believers make up the body. Through the centuries the Catholic Church has piercedpersecutedChrists brethren. When Christ comes the harlot is said to be drunk with the blood of the saints and witnesses of Jesus. So when Christ and his brethren are manifested in power, all kindreds of the earththe Roman apocalyptic earthwill wail because of divine judgment, and their recognition of the wrong they have done. Then: The Gentiles shall come from the ends of the earth, and shall say, Surely our fathers have inherited lies, vanity, and things wherein is no profit (Jer. 16:19). So in Revelation 1:7, the looking on him and mourning, by the peoples of the earth, belongs to the time of the manifestation of Jesus and his saints to the Gentile world in power and judgment.
There is in Matthew chapter 24:30 a closely similar expression to the one we have been studying in Revelation 1:7. Matthew reads: And then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn and Revelation: All the tribes of the earth shall mourn over him (R.V.). The Revised Version has brought out the close similarity of the wording. But these are not the same events. As we shall see later, Matthew is concerned with Jesus coming to his nation, and the words here are a straightforward reference back to Zechariah chapter 12:10; whereas in Revelation there is an antitypical sense applying to the Gentiles.
Coming with Clouds
As with the piercing so with the coming with clouds, this should not be taken as a literal happening in the book of Revelation. The clouds are an appropriate symbol for the saints, and this is taken from the symbology of Daniel 7:13. For further details, please see page 57.
Although it may be agreed that He cometh with clouds in the symbolic book of Revelation is not to be taken literally, it is said that Jesus coming in literal clouds is established from other scriptures. In particular Acts 1:9-14 is put forward: And a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven. But this passage is far from supporting Bro. Whittakers idea of Jesus exhibited to all the world as he arrives. In fact it positively teaches the reverse. If we wish to understand these words in Acts as meaning that his coming will be exactly like his going, then we must understand that he will come out of a cloud, and be seen by his disciples. It is a coming to his disciples not the world. This would require the resurrection immediately at his return.
Matthew 24:30 is also taken as proof that Jesus will be seen literally by all the world when he comes. The passage reads: 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. His coming in the clouds of heaventhe shekinah gloryis said to be the sign in the literal heaven which all the world will see. If this sounds reasonable at first sight, it will be found to have several flaws on examination.
First, to say that the coming in clouds at the end of the verse is the same thing as the sign in heaven at the beginning of the verse, is to ignore the obvious sequence of events through the verse. The sequence is plain (a) the sign of the Son of man in heaven, (b) and then shall the tribes mourn and see the coming in clouds. Bro. Whittaker ignores the and then, which establishes that the coming in clouds is after the sign in heaven.
Secondly, one cannot make the sign of a thing the same as the thing itself. Bro. Whittaker tells us that the Son of man in heaven is the sign of the Son of man in heaven! The truth of the matter is that the disciples had asked for a sign of his coming that they might be prepared for that coming: the sign is something that must precede the actual coming. It is confusion to make the sign and the actual coming the same thing.
Thirdly, to have the sign in a literal heaven ignores the context. The immediate context, that is to say the previous verse, speaks of the sun being darkened, and the moon not giving her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven shall be shaken. This is not to be taken literally. While one may perhaps believe that the sun and moon can be literally darkened by some eclipse, one does not suppose that there are any advocates of the multitudes of stars, millions of miles away, falling into this earth. Nor, unless one believes in a personal devil and similar spirits would one literally have the powers of the heavens shaken. So it is apparent that the language is not literal, but is a figurative style which the disciples would be well acquainted with from the Old Testament. One illustration of this is in Isaiah chapter 13, regarding the overthrow of Babylon by the Medes and Persians: Behold the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it. For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine. And I will punish the world for their evil (verses 9-11). Recognising that the sun, moon, and stars stand for ruling powers in the political and religious heavens, one can understand in a figurative way the powers of the heaven shall be shaken.
Passing now from verse 29 to verse 30, as the heaven in verse 29 is figurative, so must the heaven of verse 30 be; there is no break in the theme between the verses. And as the heaven is figurative, so one would also expect the clouds of heaven to be figurative as well. The disciples would be well acquainted with the clouds of heaven as a figure for the saints in Daniel 7:13-18, and they would so understand Jesus. The meaning of this verse 30 is examined fully in the next chapter, but sufficient has been said here to show that we cannot use this verse to support literal clouds in a literal heaven.
Bro. Whittaker attempts to use 1 Thess. 4:17 to support a literal coming in clouds. He gives a re-translation: caught away in clouds (for the purpose of meeting the Lord) into the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. If words mean anything this would teach, on a literal handling, that the saints will ever be in the literal air with their Lord! One does not suppose Bro. Whittaker believes this, and the only way of escape from such foolishness is to abandon the idea of literal clouds in literal air.
We conclude from this survey of references to Jesus coming in clouds that there is nothing in them that is out of harmony with the teaching of the prophets that Jesus comes to Sinai and gathers his saints there for judgment. The sense in which the Son of man comes in the clouds of heaven will be explained more fully in the next chapter in the study of the Mount Olivet prophecy.