As the OP and most others on this web-site will be very well aware, the Bible contains several types of literature including
- simple literal narrative
- predictive prophecies
- highly symbolic apocalyptic literature
- metaphoric poetry
- etc, etc.
If one is seeking any kind of literalness about anything, the last place to look is highly symbolic prophecy. Indeed, the book of Revelation opens with this unambiguous statement:
Rev 1:1 (BLB) - The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to
show to His bond-servants what things it behooves to take place in
quickness. And He signified it through having sent His angel to
His servant, John,
That is, by its own declaration, the book of Revelation is written in signs and symbols (with the obvious exception of the prologue and epilogue). Even a casual reader will draw the same conclusion when reading many of the cartoonish prophecies with chimeric beasts, swords coming out of the mouths, etc.
So, here are some statements about Jesus' return from the narrative literature:
- Matt 24:30 - At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.
- Matt 26:64 - Jesus says to him, "You have said. But I say to you, from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power and coming upon the clouds of heaven."
- Mark 14:62 - And Jesus said, "I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven."
- Acts 1:9-11 - After He had said this, they watched as He was taken up, and a cloud hid Him from their sight. They were looking intently into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven.”
- 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.
- Rev 1:7 - Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, and those who pierced Him, and all the tribes of the earth will wail because of Him. Yes! Amen!
All these allude to the famous, "Son of Man" passage in the OT:
- Dan 7:13 - In my vision in the night I continued to watch, and I saw One like the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven.
Now, let us examine the apocalyptic literature:
Then I saw heaven standing open, and there before me was a white
horse. And its rider is called Faithful and True. With righteousness
He judges and wages war. He has eyes like blazing fire, and many royal
crowns on His head. He has a name written on Him that only He Himself
knows. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and His name is The
Word of God.
The armies of heaven, dressed in fine linen, white and pure, follow
Him on white horses. And from His mouth proceeds a sharp sword with
which to strike down the nations, and He will rule them with an iron
scepter. He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the
Almighty. And He has a name written on His robe and on His thigh:
KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
It is obvious that this picture of Messiah Jesus leading the armies of heaven dressed in white linen robes (cf Rev 19:8) is highly symbolic and not literal because we have:
- eyes like blazing fire
- many diadems on his head
- has a name that is unknown yet immediately declared (V16)
- has a sharp sword to strike the nations from His mouth!
- robe is white yet dipped in blood
- He rides a white horse yet treads the winepress of God
- how do horses ride in the sky (assuming they are not Wagner's Valkyries)?
And I looked and saw a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was One
like the Son of Man, with a golden crown on His head and a sharp
sickle in His hand.
Note the differences between this symbolic picture and that of Rev 19:
- many diadems vs one diadem
- sword in the mouth vs sickle in the hand
- one cannot literally "sit" on a cloud (however, one can come with the clouds!)
However, this picture in Rev 14 of the two-fold judgement cannot be literal (despite the allusion to the cloud and the Son of Man) because the Son of man supervises the two harvests:
- the righteous grain
- the wicked grapes
Thus, again, this is a symbolic picture of Jesus' return. The narrative literature should be taken more literally.