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There are at least three different appearances by Jesus in the end times;

And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. (Matthew 24:30 NASB)

All has either on, in or with the clouds Matthew 26:64, Mark 13:26, 14:62, Revelation 1:7 (Daniel 7:13).

Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and sitting on the cloud was one like a son of man, with a golden crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand. (Revelation 14:14 NASB)

Revelation 14:14 Has him sitting on the clouds with a crown on his head and a sickle in his hand.

11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many crowns; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. 13 He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. (Revelation 19:11-14 NASB)

And Revelation 19:11-14 here he's riding out of heaven.

  • Are any of them to be interpreted as literal or a they all symbolic?
  • Are all three one and the same event?
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    Related hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/74570/…
    – Henry
    Oct 13, 2023 at 8:28
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    What makes you think he can't come both on the clouds and on a horse? Oct 16, 2023 at 20:06
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    That aside still, what makes you think he can't come both on the clouds and on a horse? Oct 17, 2023 at 21:33
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    Quite separately, why would insult your readers with a title that's nothing more than a rhetorical question which no Answer but merely functions to 'challenge' the reader. Does any other Member think Daniel be encouraged to do that? Oct 20, 2023 at 19:45
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    Why are you ignoring the clash evident in various different Bible versions of these passages between 'The…' and 'A Son of Man'? Or does that not matter here? Oct 20, 2023 at 19:59

2 Answers 2

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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
  • parables
  • 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:

Rev 19:11-16

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)?

Rev 14:14

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.

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  • And clouds are symbolic of God's presence or nearness. +1 Oct 13, 2023 at 13:11
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    And horses are symbolic of power and control (compare with the 4 horsemen). Oct 13, 2023 at 13:38
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    Since clouds are vaporized water, this may be relevant: Revelation 17:15 “The waters that you saw where the harlot lives represent large numbers of peoples, nations, and tongues." Applying this to the OP's question clouds could represent 'clouds of witnesses" who will accompany the Second Advent. Oct 13, 2023 at 16:41
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    @DanFefferman - that is using modern physics to answer a question. Hermeneutics uses only the meanings of the words at the time of the writer to answer questions.
    – Dottard
    Oct 13, 2023 at 19:10
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Clouds as God’s sky-taxis

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 the following:

  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).

A better-known example appears in Daniel 7:13, where the prophet Daniel was watching in the night, and behold, “One like the Son of Man [a reference to the Final Judge] comes with the clouds of heaven!”

In the Acts of the Apostles, the ascension of Jesus into heaven also makes use of cloud-transport: "a cloud took him from their sight" (Acts 1:9). As for his return: "Jesus will come back in the same way as you have seen him go there" (Acts 1:11; Matt. 24:30; 26:64; Mark 13:26; 14:62; Luke 21:27; 1 Thess. 4:17).

The Book of Revelation takes this seriously when it says that Jesus "who is to come" (Rev 1:4) will arrive "on the clouds" (Rev 1:7). In this same book, "one like a son of man" (Rev 14:14; also Dan 7:13) gathers in the elect under the metaphor of reaping. This reaping takes place as the son of man sits "on a cloud" (Rev 14:14, 16).

Later in the Book of Revelation, Jesus is persented as riding a white war-horse and the 144,000 martyrs ride white war-horses behind him and descend from heaven as his army:

Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.19:12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed that no one knows but himself.19:13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God.19:14 And the armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses.19:15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.19:16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, "King of kings and Lord of lords." (Rev 19:11-17)

While the text does not explicitly say so, the entire army would have depended upon large clouds in order to arrive on earth. This is the only place where war-horses [riding upon clouds] are used to transport God's army to earth. Thus, even here, is not a question of horses or clouds (as the question implies) but of horses moving from heaven to earth on clouds.

Peace and joy in understanding God's word

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    Welcome to BH. Have you read the tour below left? Your answer is curious to me. On the one hand it is +++regarding clouds but I see no mention of a horse. "clouds or on a horse" is in the question.
    – C. Stroud
    Mar 19 at 11:55
  • Thanks C.S. My revision "with horses" is now completed. Mar 22 at 0:44

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