by Charles Whitaker (1944-2021)
June 23, 2021
“They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” —Matthew 24:30
Previously, we have seen how God uses His cloud to hide and to reveal. The concept revolves around the variability of clouds’ density—they can be thick or thin. Thin clouds admit light, symbolic of knowledge (I Corinthians 4:5). Conversely, the thicker the cloud, the more impenetrable it becomes, refusing admittance to human eyes, no matter how intently—and how well-intentioned—they might stare into it. The apostle Paul uses a related metaphor to get across the same idea:
Now all we can see of God is like a cloudy picture in a mirror. Later we will see Him face to face. We don’t know everything, but then we will, just as God completely understands us. (I Corinthians 13:12, Contemporary English Version [CEV])
In this last article on clouds, we will examine clouds in prophecy, focusing on the Day of the Lord, which we understand to be the year-long period culminating in Christ’s touching down on the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:1-4). It appears that the Day of the Lord occurs as the final year of the time of Jacob’s Trouble (Jeremiah 30:7).i
Clouds in the Day of the Lord
Any number of Old and New Testament scriptures describes the role clouds will play in the Day of the Lord, just before the, return of Christ, often called the Parousia.ii For instance, Zephaniah 1 is about God’s judgment on sinning Judah. But as verse 2 shows, the prophecy is much more sweeping: “I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth” (English Standard Version [ESV]). The prophet continues:
The great day of the LORD is near; it is near and hastens quickly. The noise of the day of the LORD is bitter; there the mighty men shall cry out. That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of devastation and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness . . .. (Zephaniah 1:14-15)iii
The prophet Joel, like Zephaniah, links clouds with the Day of the Lord: “For the day of the LORD is coming, for it is at hand: A day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, like the morning clouds spread over the mountains” (Joel 2:1-2).
Like Zephaniah, the prophet Ezekiel describes the Day of the Lord in terms of clouds and universal destruction.iv The prophecy is about Egypt, but again, the impact is worldwide: “For the day is near, the day of the LORD is near; it will be a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations” (Ezekiel 30:3, ESV).
Note the plural: nations. Two chapters later, speaking again about Egypt, God again refers to a cloud: “When I put out your light, I will cover the heavens, and make its stars dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light” (Ezekiel 32:7).
In Acts 1 appears a subtle reference to the Day of the Lord and the cloud that will attend it. “After [Christ] had said this, He was taken up as they were watching, and a cloud took Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9, Holman Christian Standard Bible [HCSB]). Other versions read that the cloud “hid Him from their sight.”v This depiction fits well with the idea of clouds moving, moving upward in this case. The cloud conveys God; He is present in it. Additionally, this depiction fits nicely into the notion that clouds can occlude, that is, hide or obscure.vi
The two angels standing nearby notify the awe-struck disciples (and us) that the Christ “will come back in the same way that you saw Him go to heaven” (Acts 1:11, GOD’s WORD Translation [GW]). He ascended in a cloud; He will return in one. As such, this passage gives insight into the Day of the Lord when Christ returns. Does it agree with other prophecies on this topic? Yes, it does, as Christ’s remarks in the Olivet Prophecy indicate:vii
Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Matthew 24:30)
Further, Christ does not change His mode of transport in the years after His return. On trial before the council, He prophesied about another event, this one to take place years after His return: “. . . in the future you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64, HCSB).
Many witnesses render it more accurately: “in the clouds of heaven.” Finally, the apostle John adds his witness to the fact that Christ will come “riding” (The Message) the clouds: “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen” (Revelation 1:7).
At Work for a Year
Luke helps us connect Christ’s return with another time in history beset with clouds:
For as the lightning that flashes out of one part under heaven shines to the other part under heaven, so also the Son of Man will be in His day. But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. . . . Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed. (Luke 17:24-27, 30)
The term “in His day” in verse 24 means “in the day of Him.” He is the Lord. Hence, the reference is to the Day of the Lord.viii
Psalm 29:10 tells us that “The LORD sat enthroned over the flood…” (International Standard Version [ISV]). The word “flood” there is mabbuwl,ix, xthe Hebrew noun that specifically refers to the great Deluge in Genesis—and only to that Flood. About ten other Hebrew words mean “flood,” but only mabbuwl appears in the Old Testament in reference to the Flood. This reference in Psalm 29:10 is the only use of mabbuwl outside the Genesis account of the Flood. God sat enthroned over Noah’s Flood.
Beginning probably on the day Noah entered the ark—”on the very same day” as Genesis 7:13 puts it—the Being whom we know as Jesus Christ oversaw events from His cloud. While there are different ways of looking at the events during that cataclysm, it appears that, for the better part of a year, the enthroned God presided over the Flood, supervising two activities:
He destroyed a violent and corrupt civilization worldwide—all of it—so thoroughly that little certifiable archeological evidence confirms it ever existed. However, substantial geological evidence of the Noachian Deluge exists. God virtually obliterated the ante-Diluvian civilization.xi
At the same time, the enthroned God also wiped out the ante-Diluvian world, not just its civilization. While He was destroying the corrupt culture that existed in, say, what we now term North America, He began to terraform a new world. Vast currents of water built the plains and carved out the Grand Canyon. All over the world, God directed that sort of activity. Enthroned on His cloud, He orchestrated rebuilding almost immediately after destruction. It appears that God views restoration as concomitant with destruction.
When the clouds finally scattered, and Noah again set foot on terra firma, the geography and the topography were substantially different from when God “sealed” him in the ark (Genesis 7:16, ISV). It was a new world.
As it was in Noah’s day, “so it will be on the day when the Son of Man comes” (Luke 17:24, New Living Translation [NLT]). By the time the clouds suddenly dissipate, and He is revealed (verse 30), Christ will have done very much as He had done when He presided over the Flood. At His revealing (Parousia), He will have spent the better part of a year in His cloud, in the gloom, in the darkness, in the wind, riding His portable throne, searching out His enemies, cutting them asunder (Matthew 24:51). He will have taken vengeance on those who are His enemies, those who have killed His saints, touching the apple of His eye (Deuteronomy 32:10; Psalm 17:8; Zechariah 2:8).
Christ will destroy and create virtually simultaneously. For as He “destroy[s] those who destroy the earth” (Revelation 11:18), He will also be terraforming, leveling mountains with earthquakes, raising valleys (Isaiah 40:3-5; Luke 3:3-6), changing the directions of some rivers, building others. In all this, He will be so thorough that not so much as one genetically modified seed will remain on the earth’s face. He will tolerate no such corruption in His Kingdom (Isaiah 11:9; 65:25).
Throughout this period of Strum und Drang, He will protect those He has chosen to protect, those He graciously chooses as individuals to help Him build a new civilization. For, during the Day of the Lord, Christ will display the same level of precise selectivity as He did anciently, destroying some, saving others according to His righteous judgment. Through Jeremiah, God writes of His ability to be thus targeted in His judgments in this historical example:
[Nebuchadnezzar] will come and strike down the land of Egypt—those destined for death, to death; those destined for captivity, to captivity; and those destined for the sword, to the sword. (Jeremiah 43:11, Christian Standard Bible [CSB])
Isaiah 4:3-6, a passage we looked at earlier, describing the smoking cloud over Jerusalem in the last days, reflects Christ’s power—and His resolve—to judge fairly. While destroying His enemies, He will cover His people with His glorious canopy, “a shelter from the heat during the day as well as a refuge and hiding place from storms and rain.” He will remember them just as surely as He remembered Noah and his family during the year they were in the ark (Genesis 8:1).
The penetrating darkness of the Day of the Lord stands in stark contrast to the brilliancexii of His revealing. John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, emphasizes this contrast at the close of his comments about his newborn son, John. Here, he alludes to the yet unborn Messiah as the Dayspring, or sunrise, saying that He “from on high will visit us to shine on those who live in darkness and the shadow of death; to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79, [CSB]).
Humanity’s day is about to end in terrible agony. God’s day, of one thousand years, is about to begin. Before that day comes, a short—only a year—period of deep darkness and profound gloom will cover the earth. For all that, considering the peace and the fellowship the Dayspring will bring when He is at last revealed, we can only concur with the apostle John’s sentiments on Patmos. After he had seen all those horrific visions of the end time, he asserted: “So be it. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20, Good News Translation).
Inset: Darkness’s Sudden Death
“The darkest hour of all is the hour before day.” —Irish proverb cited by Samuel Lover (1858)
Without God’s revelatory grace, darkness lingers indefinitely, deepening with time’s passage. Darkness, with its attendant violence, ignorance, and fear, is the natural, elemental state. Such is the lesson of Genesis 1:2-3: Had God not said, “Let there be light,” tohu and bohu would abide, randomness and chaos unconquered. The revealed narrative of the beginning does not start with light but with darkness—not order but chaos. God’s Word opens with a description of the earth in disorder. God etches into our collective consciousness that darkness came first by ordaining that each day since the first begins with darkness and proceeds into light with the coming of the sun.
God did not choose to begin the sacred text with a description of the earth before tohu and bohu, although He assures us through the apostle Paul that He does not author confusion (I Corinthians 14:33). Perhaps He started with the good-for-nothing darkness to stress the patent fact of His graciousness in bringing light to the face of the earth. There is no light that does not emanate from Him (Isaiah 8:20). Whatever His reasons, He has filled His revelation to us, page after page of it, with examples of “His goodness bringing an end to darkness” of all types and orders.xiii
Accordingly, we come to understand that, before Christ could be glorified in the giving of sight, the man born blind lived in darkness for decades (John 9:1-12). He had to do that to allow those with eyes to see the stark and undeniable contrast between dark and light, blindness and revelation.
It was just as necessary that, before Christ could receive glory as the One who rules wind and sea, the disciples on the boat had to experience a period of terrifying distress, certain they were all about to perish in the violence of the waters (Matthew 8:23-27; Luke 8:22-25). Yet, to the blind man, to those in the boat, light came just as it did to the earth’s surface on Creation’s first day.
And it came suddenly. Not only does God’s grace end darkness, but it does so in a flash, as the coming of lightning attends the Parousia. In only seven days, God finished off tohu and bohu, supplanting it perfectly with the order we call Creation. Here are several Scriptures that show how fast God can replace the violence that results from sin with what is good and wholesome. Sometimes the change from dark to light occurs in a single breath—“let there be light.” In some cases, the shift from chaos to order occurs so fast the author did not have time to insert a transitional word!
The italic text below indicates the destructive force of His judgment on sin—the darkness that sin inevitably brings. The normal text indicates the goodness God suddenly puts in its place.
Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it; and it is the time of Jacob’s trouble, but he shall be saved out of it. “For it shall come to pass in that day,” says the LORD of hosts, “that I will break his yoke from your neck, and will burst your bonds; foreigners shall no more enslave them.”
Zechariah 14:1-5 (NLT):
Watch, for the day of the LORD is coming when your possessions will be plundered right in front of you!I will gather all the nations to fight against Jerusalem. The city will be taken, the houses looted, and the women raped. Half the population will be taken into captivity, and the rest will be left among the ruins of the city. Then the LORD will go out to fight against those nations, as He has fought in times past. On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem. And the Mount of Olives will split apart, making a wide valley running from east to west. Half the mountain will move toward the north and half toward the south. You will flee through this valley, for it will reach across to Azal. … Then the LORD my God will come, and all His holy ones with him.
Isaiah 30:20-21 (New English Translation [NET]):
The sovereign master will give you distress to eat and suffering to drink; but your teachers will no longer be hidden; your eyes will see them. You will hear a word spoken behind you, saying, “This is the correct way, walk in it,” whether you are heading to the right or the left.
Isaiah 30:25 (NET):
On every high mountain and every high hill there will be streams flowing with water, at the time of great slaughter when the fortified towers collapse.
Isaiah 30:26 (NET):
The light of the full moon will be like the sun’s glare and the sun’s glare will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven days, when the LORD binds up his people’s fractured bones and heals their severe wound.
Joel 3:14-18 (NET):
Crowds, great crowds are in the valley of decision, for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision! The sun and moon are darkened; the stars withhold their brightness. The LORD roars from Zion; from Jerusalem his voice bellows out. The heavens and the earth shake. But the LORD is a refuge for his people; he is a stronghold for the citizens of Israel. You will be convinced that I the LORD am your God, dwelling on Zion, my holy mountain. Jerusalem will be holy—conquering armies will no longer pass through it. On that day the mountains will drip with sweet wine, and the hills will flow with milk. All the dry stream beds of Judah will flow with water. A spring will flow out from the temple of the LORD, watering the Valley of Acacia Trees.
i The first use of the term “Day of the Lord” appears in Isaiah 2:11-16, where the concept of inclusiveness thematically pervades. The Day of the Lord will affect the entire earth.
The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day. For the day of the LORD of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low: And upon all the cedars of Lebanon that are high and lifted up and upon all the oaks of Bashan, and upon all the high mountains and upon all the hills that are lifted up, and upon every high tower, and upon every fenced wall, and upon all the ships of Tarshish and upon all pleasant pictures. (Jubilee Bible [JUB])
Compare Isaiah 5:15-16:
People shall be brought down, each man shall be humbled, and the eyes of the lofty shall be humbled. But the Lord of hosts shall be exalted in judgment, and God who is holy shall be hallowed in righteousness.
The term “Day of the Lord” appears 18 times in the Old Testament, five in the New Testament. Definitive passages include Isaiah 13:9-13; Jeremiah 46:10; Ezekiel 13:5; 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1-2; 3:14-18; Amos 5:18-20; Obadiah 15-16; Zephaniah 1:1-18; Zechariah 14:1-15; Malachi 4:1-3; I Corinthians 5:5; I Thessalonians 5:2-3; and II Thessalonians 2:2.
The term “Lord’s day,” grammatically equivalent to the “Day of the Lord,” appears once in the King James Version (KJV) (Revelation 1:10), where, in context, it clearly does not refer to Sunday, the so-called “Lord’s Day,” but to a period of judgment.
The term “in that day,” appearing 112 times in the KJV, does not always refer to the Day of the Lord. However, its first use (Exodus 8:22), where God says He will make a difference between Goshen and Egypt “in that day,” may have prophetic import: God will make a difference between Israel (the church, the Israel of God; Galatians 6:16) and the world in the Day of the Lord.
Since Christ is “the Lord,” His reference to “My day” in John 8:56 may be a reference to the Day of the Lord. Grammatically, the term “My day” is the first-person equivalent of the third-person “Lord’s day” (compare Hebrews 11:13). John 8:56 does not teach that Abraham was living in heaven and saw Christ’s birth, as some claim in support of their errant contention that the “dead in Christ” go to heaven immediately upon death.
The term “His day,” where the pronoun clearly refers to Christ, appears only once in the Scriptures, in Luke 17:24: In this case, “His day” is a third-person pronoun form of “Lord’s day.” “For as the lightning that flashes out of one part under heaven shines to the other part under heaven, so also the Son of Man will be in His day.”
Distinct from the Day of the Lord is the day of man, mentioned by Paul in I Corinthians 4:3, where it is often translated “human court” or “man’s judgment.” The literal Greek is “day of man.” “But it is a trivial matter to me if I am evaluated by you or by a day in a human court. Why, I do not even evaluate myself” (Evangelical Heritage Version [EHV]).
ii “Parousia” is a theological term derived from a Greek noun. In the New Testament, parousia denotes Christ’s presence after an absence, thus, broadly, the return of Christ.
iii Unless otherwise noted, all scriptural citations are from the New King James Version.
iv While the prophet Amos does not relate the Day of the Lord to clouds, he does call it a day of “darkness, and not light” (Amos 5:18).
v The Greek verb rendered “took, hid, or received” (KJV) is hupolambano (Strong’s Concordance, #5274), appearing only four times in the New Testament. The KJV translators render hupolambano as “answer” (once), “receive” (once) and “suppose” (twice). The New American Standard Bible renders hupolambano as “received” (once), “replied” (once), “support” (once) and “suppose” (twice). Its first appearance is in Luke 7:43, where it is translated as “suppose.”
vi A surprising result of a review of various artistic renditions of Christ’s ascension was how many artists have depicted the event without a cloud in the sky! Some have Him ascending in a ray of bright light but no clouds.
vii A second witness appears in Mark 13:26: “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory,” and a third, in Luke 21:27: “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”
viii See Matthew 24:27. In this parallel passage to Luke 17:24, Matthew avoids the use of the pronoun “His,” thereby clarifying Luke’s verbiage. “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.”
ix The Hebrew noun mabbuwl (Strong’s #3999) appears thirteen times in twelve Old Testament verses. All but one of them are in the Genesis account of the Flood, the single exception being Psalm 29:10. The KJV ubiquitously translates mabbuwl as “flood.” Its first use is in Genesis 6:17.
The Old Testament’s exclusive use of a dedicated noun to refer to the singular great Deluge has a parallel in the New Testament, where the KJV renders as “flood” four Greek words (three nouns and one adjective). However, the New Testament writers use only one of those words, kataklysmos, to refer to the Deluge. Kataklysmos (Strong’s #2627), from which the English word “cataclysm” obviously derives, appears four times in four New Testament verses: Matthew 24:38, 39; Luke 17:27; II Peter 2:5.
x In Psalm 29.10, the verb translated “enthroned,” yashab (Strong’s #3427), is properly past tense, although many translations render it in the present. Yashab appears 1,089 times in 980 verses is the Old Testament. The KJV translates it as“dwell” (437x), “inhabitant” (221x),“sit” (172x),“abide” (70x), “inhabit” (39x), “down” (26x),“remain” (23x), “in” (22x),“tarry”(19x),“set” (14x),“continue” (5x), “place” (5x), with 23 miscellaneous translations. Its first use appears in Genesis 4:16: “Then Cain went out from the presence of the Lord and dwelt [yashab] in the land of Nod on the east of Eden.”
xi The apostle Peter recognizes the linkage between the Flood and the Lake of Fire in II Peter 3. More correctly, he understands that the thoroughness of God’s destruction of the “world that then was” (II Peter 3:6) serves as an emblem of His future annihilation of the wicked in the Lake of Fire.
xii Scripture frequently links Christ with light:
John 1:7: [John the Baptist] came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through Him might believe.
John 8:12: Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”
John 12:35-36: Then Jesus said to them, “A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them.
II Corinthians 4:6: For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 5:14: Therefore He says: “Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”
I John 1:7: But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.
II Peter 1:19 (Complete Jewish Bible [CJB]): Yes, we have the prophetic Word made very certain. You will do well to pay attention to it as to a light shining in a dark, murky place, until the Day dawns and the Morning Star rises in your hearts.
Conversely, the absence of light is undesirable.
Isaiah 8:20: To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.
Isaiah 50:10: Who among you fears the Lord? Who obeys the voice of His Servant? Who walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord and rely upon his God.
Jeremiah 4:23: I beheld the earth, and indeed it was without form, and void; and the heavens, they had no light.
Amos 5:8: He made the Pleiades and Orion; He turns the shadow of death into morning and makes the day dark as night; He calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out on the face of the earth; the Lord is His name.
xiii The verbal phrase, “God’s goodness bringing an end to darkness,” is an operational definition of God’s graciousness.