Coming on the Clouds

The whole earth will witness the “Son of Man” arriving on the clouds to gather his “elect” to himself – Mark 13:21-27

Clouds over sea - Photo by Nick Scheerbart on Unsplash
The ‘Olivet Discourse’ now takes us beyond the “
abomination of desolation” the destruction of the Temple to the return of the “Son of Man” to gather his saints. How much time will pass between the Temple’s demise and his arrival is not provided, but during this interim, the church must beware of deceivers that disseminate false information about his coming - [Clouds over sea - Photo by Nick Scheerbart on Unsplash].

When Jesus does arrive, there will be no mistaking the event. It will be accompanied by celestial upheaval, which, presumably, the entire world will witness (“all the tribes of the earth”), along with his appearance “in power and glory.”
  • (Mark 13:21-27) - “And then, if any man will say to you, Lo, here is the Christ; or, Lo, there; believe it not: for there will arise false Christs and false prophets, and will show signs and wonders, that they may deceive, if possible, the elect. But take ye heed: behold, I have told you all things beforehand. But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give her light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken. And then will they see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then will he send forth the angels and will gather his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.
False Prophets. “And then” (kai tote). In the Discourse, this Greek adverb of time is used to mark new paragraphs and changes in the subject matter. Here, it signifies that the discussion has moved to matters after the events surrounding the appearance of the “abomination of desolation.”

For there will arise false Christs and false prophets and show signs and wonders.” This clause echoes the warning of Moses about false prophets:
  • (Deuteronomy 13:1-3) – “If there arise in the midst of you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder,  and the sign or the wonder come to pass of which he spoke to you, saying, Let us go after other gods, which you have not known, and let us serve them; you will not hearken to the words of that prophet.
In the Septuagint version, the two Greek words rendered “signs and wonders” in Deuteronomy match those found on the lips of Jesus - (semeia kai terata). And while he labels them “false prophets,” nowhere does he stipulate that their “signs and wonders” are not genuine miracles.

Just as Moses warned Israel, so Jesus forewarned his disciples - (“I have told you all things beforehand”). The goal of the “false prophets” is to mislead the “elect,” the people of God.

But take heed.” This is the same clause employed at the start of the Discourse to warn disciples about “deceivers” that would come “upon the name” of Jesus. This links the present warning to the earlier one. Here, the “deceivers” are identified as “false prophets and false christs” that propagate false information about his return.

The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give her light.” The pictorial language echoes several Old Testament passages about the “Day of Yahweh” – (e.g., Isaiah 13:10). However, one from the book of Joel provides the main background:
  • (Joel 2:30-32) – “The sun will be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of Yahweh comes. And it will come to pass, that whosoever will call on the name of Yahweh will be delivered; for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be those that escape, as Yahweh has said, and among the remnant those whom Yahweh does call.” - (compare Isaiah 13:10).
The connection of the return of Jesus to the “day of the Lord” from the Hebrew Bible is common in the New Testament. His words about celestial chaos trace that later interpretation to Jesus himself – (1 Corinthians 1:18, 2 Thessalonians 5:1-2, 2 Peter 3:3-12, Revelation 6:12-17).

While the element of judgment is present in the passage, the stress is on the salvation of the “elect” – “He will send forth the angels and will gather together his elect” – A prominent theme in the passage from Joel.
The New Testament applies the term “elect” to the faithful followers of Jesus – (Luke 18:7, Romans 8:33, Colossians 3:12, 1 Timothy 5:21, 2 Timothy 2:10, Titus 1:1, 1 Peter 1:1, 2:4- 9).

The stars will be falling from heaven.” Celestial upheaval is a common theme in prophecies about the “day of the Lord.” Whether this is meant literally or metaphorically, it points to chaotic events that accompany his arrival. The description suggests the irruption into the present order of an entirely new order, the new creation.

They see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” This statement alludes to a key passage from Daniel:
  • (Daniel 7:13-14) – “I saw in the night-visions, and behold, there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a son of man, and he came even to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which will not pass away, and his kingdom that which will not be destroyed.
In Daniel, the “Son of Man” was “coming” to receive his “everlasting kingdom,” a realm that included men and women from “all the nations.”  In the ‘Olivet Discourse,’ he arrives “on the clouds” to gather his “elect” from the “uttermost parts of the earth.”

Who is the “they,” the group that will “see the Son of Man coming?” Previously, Jesus forewarned how “they will deliver you up to councils, and in synagogues you will be beaten,” “they will deliver you up” for trial and judgment, and “they will deceive, if possible, the elect.” In the present context, it refers to the “false prophets” and “false messiahs” that performed the “signs and wonders” to deceive disciples of Jesus.

In short, “they” refers to the opponents of the disciples, especially to the deceivers working within their own congregations. This day will mean the judgment of deceivers and of the persecutors of the saints, but also, the deliverance of the “elect” - (Isaiah 60:1-3, 14, Revelation 3:9-10).

He will gather together his elect from the uttermost part of the earth.” The language reflects promises from a messianic prophecy from the Book of Isaiah:
  • (Isaiah 11:1, 10-12) – “And there will come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots will bear fruit… And it will come to pass, in that day, that the root of Jesse, that stands for an ensign of the peoples, to him will the nations seek; and his resting-place will be glorious. And it will come to pass, in that day, that the Lord will set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people… And he will set up an ensign for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.”
Thus, Jesus applied the language of gathering the remnant of Israel out of the nations to his disciples. As to “where” he gathers them, the passage does not say. Presumably, and logically, he will gather his “elect” to himself, wherever that might be – (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).


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