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At that time the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.

Is Jesus merely quoting imagery from Daniel 7:13, emphasizing His power to judge Judea and the Jewish Temple? (Which happened in that generation of time, 67-70 A.D.)

Or is He drawing from the O.T. custom of describing a destruction of a nation by picturing "God coming on the clouds"? For example:

An oracle concerning Egypt, See, the LORD rids on a swift cloud and is coming to Egypt. The idols of Egypt tremble before him, and the hearts of the Egyptians melt within them. (Isaiah 19:1)

Now I pronounce my judgments against them. Look! He advances like the clouds, His chariots come like a whirlwind... (Jeremiah 4:12-13)

Praise the LORD, O my soul...He makes the clouds His chariot and rides on the wings of the wind. (Psalm 104:3)

Wail and say, 'Alas for that day! For the day is near--a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations. (Ezekiel 30:3)

Jesus told the high priest that he would "see the Son of Man...coming on the clouds of heaven!" Was this to be taken as a forecast of the Destruction of Jerusalem in his life time--that is, taken symbolically? (Like the O.T. usage) Or did the priest actually see the "Clouded One" (Heb. Anini a Jewish title for the Messiah)?

And then, did the "nations actually see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory?

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  • 2
    I think your basic problem is your insistence that Matt 24:26-31 refers to the destruction of Jerusalem which is controlling your interpretation of the clouds! It should be the other way around.
    – Dottard
    Jun 4, 2023 at 22:51
  • @DottardThank you for your assessment. However I came to the conclusion that vss. 26-31 refer to the Destruction of the Jewish nation "after" my research on the "Jewish" usage of the figurative language as revealed in the O.T. It was "the other way around." Peace.
    – ray grant
    Jun 5, 2023 at 20:11
  • Which English Bible are you using, please? I know of dozens and they very rarely agree on anything… clearly including Matthew 24:30 Oct 26, 2023 at 20:23
  • Why do say the idiom might be Jewish? Can you think of three or two or any student of the Bible who doesn't automatically assume that because any such idiom is necessarily Jewish, there should be no reason to mention that? Oct 26, 2023 at 20:26

5 Answers 5

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It is my understanding that in Mt 24:30, Yeshua is referring to his coming in judgment, not only against the Jewish nation but against all the nations (or tribes) of the earth1 from ca. AD 67–70. Regarding the meaning of Yeshua’s words, I would argue that biblical precedent does not require that we interpret his words to mean that he would literally be seen riding on clouds at the Parousia. This becomes evident when one considers how “cloud rider” language is used in the Hebrew Bible (HB) in connection with Yahweh in similar contexts to that of Mt 24:30. One passage that effectively illustrates this point is 2 Sa 22:10–12:

He [Yahweh] bowed the heavens and came down; a very thick cloud was under his feet. He rode upon a cherub and flew; he was seen on the wings of the wind. He put darkness as a canopy all around him, a collection of thick rain clouds. (2 Samuel 22:10–12, LEB; emphasis added)

2 Samuel 22:10–12 is part of a psalm written by David after Yahweh delivered him from his enemies and from the hand of Saul (2 Sam 22:1). The passage describes Yahweh coming down from heaven to save David and destroy his enemies (see 2 Sam 22:14–15), which is notably what Yeshua was coming to do for his disciples at the Parousia (cf. 1 Th 1:9–10; 4:16; 2 Th 1:6–8).

What is significant about this passage—aside from the similar context and language it shares with Mt 24:30—is that though David says Yahweh was seen in his coming from heaven, he obviously didn't intend for his words to be understood literally (cf. Ex 33:20; Jn 1:18; 6:46; 1 Jn 4:12; 1 Ti 6:16). Rather, he was using figurative language to communicate that Yahweh was invisibly present and manifesting his power2 in the world by delivering David and destroying his enemies. Therefore, if Yeshua's coming was to be like the coming of his Father in 2 Sam 22:10–12 and other passages in the HB (Is 19:1; Hab 3:8; Pss 18:10; 68:4, 33; 104:3), then his intent in Mt 24:30 may not have been to indicate that he would be visible to human eyes.

With that said, it is possible that Yeshua was seen at his Parousia. Consider the quote below from Sepher Yosippon, A Medieval History of Ancient Israel regarding events that occurred prior to the First Jewish-Roman War and the destruction of Jerusalem:

For one year before Vespasian came, a single great star shining like unsheathed swords was seen over the Temple. And in those days when the sign was seen it was the holiday of Passover and during that entire night the Temple was lit up and illuminated like the light of day, and thus it was all seven days of the Passover. All the sages of Jerusalem knew that it was a malevolent sign, but the rest of the ignorant people said that it was a benevolent sign.…
Now it happened after this that there was seen from above over the Holy of Holies for the whole night the outline of a man's face, the like of whose beauty had never been seen in all the land, and his appearance was quite awesome. (Bowman, Chapter 87 "Burning of the Temple"; emphasis added)

If the above account is true, then given the context of the events described by the author, it is at least plausible that it was Yeshua’s face that was seen above the temple prior to its destruction. It is also possible that he was seen with the troops who were “running about among the clouds” above Jerusalem prior to the war, as Josephus describes in Wars of the Jews 6.296–299. But regardless of whether Yeshua was literally seen at his Parousia or not, he certainly made his presence and power known to the Jewish nation and the rest of the inhabitants of the Roman Empire.3

Notes

1 Within the context of the New Testament, all the nations of the earth would refer specifically to the nations under the dominion of the Roman Empire (cf. Lk 2:1; Ac 11:28; 17:6; 19:27; 24:5). That Matthew has in mind all the nations of the earth rather than all the tribes of the land is supported by Donald Hagner’s comments on Mt 24:30: Following the second τότε, “then,” is the reference to the coming of the Son of Man, but this is preceded, probably for emphasis, by the reference to the mourning of “all the tribes of the earth” (πᾶσαι αἱ φυλαὶ τῆς γῆς), unique to Matthew. This language is virtually the same as that of Zech 12:10–14 (where both the same verb as in Matthew, κόψεται, “mourn,” and the phrase πᾶσαι αἱ φυλαί, “all the tribes,” as well as ἡ γῆ, here meant as “the land [of Israel],” occur—this in connection with looking on “me whom they have pierced” [LXX: “mocked”]). In keeping with Matthew’s universal perspective, the tribes of the earth, which in the OT originally meant the tribes of Israel, are to be understood as all the nations of the earth (cf. 25:32). Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 14–28, vol. 33B, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1995), 714.

2 Cf. Mt 24:30 par.; Mk 9:1; Mt 26:64 par. for references to Yeshua coming with power.

3 See Josephus, J.W. 2.455, 649–50; 6.201–213, 288–300; 6.409–421; 7.1–4; Tacitus, Histories 1.2–3; 2.56; 3.71–72; Cassius Dio, Historiae Romanae 63.28; Kurt Simmons, Urgent Corrections Preterism Must Make - No. 1.

Sources

Bowman, Steven B. (Translator). Sepher Yosippon, A Medieval History of Ancient Israel (from the critical Hebrew edition of David Flusser, translated by Steven B. Bowman). Prepublication manuscript.
Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 14–28. Vol. 33B. Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1995.
Josephus, Flavius, and William Whiston. The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987.

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There are two approaches to this question about the literalness (or otherwise) of the "clouds" in Matt 24:30 -

  1. The Passage itself

If "clouds" are taken metaphorically of God's judgement, then so must:

  • lightning (V27)
  • sun darkened (V29)
  • moon darkened (V29)
  • stars falling (V29)
  • gathering the elect from one end of the heavens to the other"
  • all the tribes of the earth mourning

None of this occurred at the destruction of Jerusalem. Rome did not mourn but rather, triumphed!

Further, if clouds are only metaphoric, then how can anyone see the Son of Man with "power and great glory"

  1. OT Background

The idea of God riding or arriving on, or in, or surrounded by clouds in the OT is very common and literal. Here is a sample:

  • At the establishment of the sanctuary in the desert - Ex 40:38. See also 1 Kings 8:11
  • God leading Israel, Ex 16:10, Lev 16:2, 42, Num 9:19, 22, 14:10, Deut 1:33
  • God speaking to individuals - Ex 34:5, Num 11:25
  • as a sign (!!! compare Matt 24:30) of the Noahide covenant with the rainbow - Gen 9:13, 14, 16, Eze 1:28
  • the clouds associated with heaven, the dwelling place of God and other celestial beings - Ps 68:34, 89:6
  • other literal clouds - Job 37:21, Isa 5:30

Thus, it appears that "the Son of Man coming in the clouds" is an allusion to the numerous such references to God in the cloud associated with the sanctuary in the desert when God led and instructed Israel directly. This occurs in the NT as well:

1 Thess 4:15-17 - By the word of the Lord, we declare to you that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will be the first to rise. After that, we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord.

Thus, I suggest, the clouds of Matt 24:30 are literal clouds and refer to the second coming of Jesus.

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  • Upvoted but see my answer for a possible way of understand the passage allegorically. Jun 5, 2023 at 2:53
  • 1
    @DottardYou are coming so close to the truth! Notice that the verses (and celestial language) you refer to are a quotation from the Old Testament (and it is set off as poetry in the NIV). It comes from Isaiah 13:10,34:4. They are figurative words describing a destruction. Jesus is merely using words the Jewish disciples were familiar with that connotate the fall of a society. YES, both verse sections are to be taken as the Jews did, figuratively.
    – ray grant
    Jun 5, 2023 at 20:19
  • 2
    @ray grant. Dottard is right. Look at Matthew 24:3 where the disciples ask Jesus a very specific question? "Tell us, when will these things be and WHAT WILL BE THE SIGN OF YOUR COMING AND THE END OF THE AGE/WORLD?" Jesus explains from vs 4-28 not only what will happen but gives advice on what they should do when at vs15 the antichrist is revealed. These events are during the great tribulation because vs29 states, "But immediately after the tribulation of those days etc. Then at vs30 the sign of the Son of Man will appear. So how did you determine the language is figurative or even allegory?
    – Mr. Bond
    Jun 5, 2023 at 20:43
  • @Mr.Bond The disciples did indeed ask, but were thinking the Destruction of the Temple would also be the end of the World. Jesus's answer straightened them out. He told them of signs of the End of the Temple...then made transition statements (4:34-36)...then described the Second Coming that would have no signs. When you mention "antichrist" you are committing eisegesis, since no such person is mentioned here. NIV translates "distress" without reference to the alleged "Great Tribulation." If you are familiar with the O.T. Jewish writings you will know what is figurative.
    – ray grant
    Jun 5, 2023 at 21:51
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Adding to @Dottard's answer, I would suggest various possible metaphorical interpretations of the clouds, lightening, sun, moon and stars etc.

  • Cloud. A suggestion may be given in Hebrews 12:1: "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us." Clouds here refer to people who act as witnesses to Christ. This could mean that the returning Christ will be accompanied by a large number of people rather than literal clouds.

  • The falling of the sun, moon and stars, likewise may be hinted at by another biblical passage, namely Joseph's dream of Gen. 37. Here, the sun, moon and stars represent Joseph's father, mother and brothers, who become the tribes of Israel. Applying this allegory/dream to the coming of Christ, the fall of the heavenly bodies could refer to the downfall of Jerusalem, the diminished light of the Jewish scriptures and the scattering of Israel. Applied to the second coming it could refer to the falling away of the many Christians, the apostasy of the church, and the diminished light of the New Testament in the time of tribulation.

  • Lightening. (24:27) Here, the prophecy is clearly not literal. It says "...just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be." This could be understood in several ways: it will happen very quickly, it could begin in the East and come to West, or it could make use of advanced technology as a means of rapid communication.

Whether correct or not, the above interpretations do begin to meet the criteria suggested in @Dottard's answer regarding how the passage might be understood allegorically.

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Clouds as God’s sky-taxis--both symbolic and real (pre-scientific)

This coming on the clouds was a very significant eschatological sign. It was used in three distinct ways in the OT.

  1. to show God's physical presence, the Shekinah cloud of Glory (cf. Exod. 13:21; 14:19,20,24; 16:10; 19:9; Num. 11:25; Neh. 9:19)
  2. to cover His Holiness so that man would not see Him and die (cf. Exod. 33:20; Isa. 6:5)
  3. to transport Deity (cf. Ps. 18:9; 104:3; Isa. 19:1; Dan. 7:13; Nah. 1:3; Acts 1:9,11; 1 Thess. 4:17)

In Daniel 7:13 clouds were used as the transportation of the divine (i.e., "rides on clouds"), human (i.e., called "Son of Man") Messiah. This prophecy in Daniel is alluded to over 30 times in the NT. This same connection of the Messiah with the clouds of heaven can be seen in

  1. Jesus' Second Coming, Matt. 24:30; 26:64; Mark 13:26; 14:62; Luke 21:27; Acts 1:9,11; 1 Thess. 4:17; Rev. 1:7
  2. Jesus ascending back to heaven, Acts 1:9
  3. meeting Jesus in the air, 1 Thess. 9:17
  4. Ezekiel introduces his description of the throne with a reference to clouds: “As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north [remember, Isaiah 14:13 hints that God resides at “the farthest sides of the north”5] and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal” (Ezekiel 1:4, English Standard Version [ESV]).
  5. The cloud often serves to transport God and, at the same time, it serves to conceal his glory from human gaze. This is evident in the transfiguration narratives.

The biblical writers see clouds as God’s swift chariot (cf. also Ps. 18:9; 104:3; Isa. 19:1; Dan. 7:13; Nah. 1:3; 1 Thess. 4:17). If we stop to reflect on this, we can imagine that people who never had the opportunity to fly in an airplane as it passed near or through clouds might easily be persuaded that clouds appear quite substantial and easily able to transport their passengers. When meeting with Moses on Mount Sinai, God uses a cloud not only to transport himself but also to hide himself from Moses, lest he see his face and die (Exod 33:19-20). The assumption here is that God uses a cloud to travel from his throne in heaven to Mount Sinai. Cloaked in the same cloud, God hides his face. This is the Shekinah, the cloud of Glory (cf. Exod. 13:21; 14:19,20,24; 16:10; 19:9; Num. 11:25; Neh. 9:19).

According to Ps 104, the Lord-God “makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind.” The prophet Isaiah says that “the LORD rides on a swift cloud and will come into Egypt” (19:1).

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  • @ Aaron Milavec Thank you for your contribution. However when you designate O.T. verses using "clouds" as eschatological you are making a great mistake. The O.T. verses do not speak of the End of the World (eschatological), but describe events that happened in O.T. times! Look up definition of "eschatology." Old Testament usage of "clouds" was often used in a figurative way, designating "celestial Presence of God", sometimes appearing to speak to the Israelites, but quite often to designate coming in Judgment on a nation. Keep studying the Bible; it's great for the soul!
    – ray grant
    Mar 19 at 20:08
  • Welcome to the site, Aaron. I've just noticed another Q regarding clouds which you answered about the same time as this. Your answer there was largely the same as this one, but with 3 new short concluding paragraphs. It is sometimes possible to import bits of a previous answer into a new one, but some comments to both of your answers indicate that a point or two in the questions were not really addressed. You can always add edits to your answers.
    – Anne
    Mar 20 at 15:02
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Fall of a Nation The figurative language describes the fall of a nation...BUT it is not the Roman nation, it is the Jewish nation...which, by the way, is the subject of the Olivet Discourse (not one stone of the Temple shall remain on another...(vs.2).

Just as heathen armies in the O.T. were seen as "weapons in the hands of the LORD" coming with destructive power (figuratively speaking), so the Jews definitely did see (perceive) that God had come with destructive power! This destruction was the type foretold many times in the Gospels, beginning with John the Baptist:

You brood of vipers! Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?...The ax is already at the root of the trees. (Matthew 3:7,10)

Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come... (Luke 23:28-29)

DestructionWhile many times God is associated with physical, visible fluffy clouds (especially in the Pentateuch), in the Prophets Books celestial language is used quite figuratively. The sun moon and stars, and lower level clouds, were oft employed to illustrate a message of DESTRUCTION.

In that day...I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your religious feasts into mourning and all your singing into weeping... (Amos 8:9)

...they will be punished after many days. The moon will be abashed, the sun ashamed; for the LORD Almighty will reign...gloriously. (Isaiah 24:22-23)

See, the Day of the LORD is coming...to make (Babylon) desolate...The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light. (Isaiah 13:9-10)

Look, He advances like the clouds, His chariots like a whirlwind...Therefore the earth will mourn and the heavens above grow dark because I have spoken. (Jeremiah 4: 13, 28)

Before them the earth shakes, the sky trembles; the sun and moon are darkened, and the stars no longer shine. The LORD thunders at the head of His army... (Joel 2:10-11)

Notice that (1) these phenom are associated with the fall of a nation and its leaders, and (2) the LORD is associated with these as a Leader of an army of destruction.

Hermeneutical Deductions With an exegetical familiarity of the Jewish scriptures (O.T.), it is easy to perceive (see) that clouds were both physical and figurative. The contexts play an important part in determining which.

And it is abundantly clear that the employment of sun, moon, and stars ceasing to function properly, in the O.T. prophetic books, is a definite figurative usage to describe the destruction of a nation(s). For Jesus to use them as well is most appropriate. They are from His scriptures, and His Jewish culture. The verses in question (vss. 29-31) are an employment of symbols describing in no uncertain terms, the coming wrath upon Israel for its murder f the prophets and the crucifixion of its Messiah.

And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth...I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation!...Look, your house is left to you desolate. (Matthew 23:35-38)

A rigid literalism in interpreting this important scripture will not accomplish the intent of Jesus's teaching.

Addendum Notice that this type of figurative language can be and was used by the apostles to describe other important events. Peter used it to show the end of the O.T. era, and the beginning of the Holy Spirit/Church Age. (Acts 2) And Peter used this type of language to describe the Second Coming. (2 Peter 3). So the present interpretation of this Olivet Discourse in no way detracts from the reality of a Second Coming of Christ.

So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; AND He will appear the Second Time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him. (Hebrews 9:28)

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  • Many thanks for explaining your point of view. Given this background, how do you then explain that "destruction" is never mentioned in Matt 24:26-31? Who are all tribes of the earth? (Most were completely ignorant of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem.) What was the trumpet call and the gathering of the elect from one end of the heavens to the other? [BTW, I do not insist upon rigid literalism and am quite opposed to it.]
    – Dottard
    Jun 6, 2023 at 20:42
  • @DottardGood questions. First note that 26-31 is an arbitrary section. The correct section is 2-35 as one unit...and in it are several reference to the disastrous End of Judaism, beginning with Jesus: "not left one stone on another!" Sounds like destruction. And all the disastrous events in this great section have the "BOOK ENDS" "All these things shall come upon this generation." (This included the verses of 26-31 see Vs. 34). Notice also, the word "immediately." No thousands of years separates 26-31 from the rest of verses. See Raymond Grant TIMES, THEY ARE A'CHANGING, M. Kik MATTHEW 24.
    – ray grant
    Jun 6, 2023 at 21:32
  • @Dottard-Thank you for your response! This Question mainly dealt with "clouds". And as we saw, during the Mosaic era, many were visible manifestations of God's Presence...and during the Prophetic era, the seers used "clouds" as metaphors in their prophecies. BUT the questions referred to in Comment are different topics, which do have answers, but they would be better answered on another posting, eh? This topic is "clouds." Stay tuned! And keep studying the Bible. It's good for the soul!
    – ray grant
    Jun 23, 2023 at 20:38

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