Coming on the Clouds

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

Sun burst - Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash
The narrative now takes us beyond the “abomination of desolation,” the destruction of Jerusalem, and the horrific “tribulation” to the return of the “Son of Man” to gather this “elect.” How much time will pass between the “tribulation” and the arrival of Jesus is not stated. However, during the interim, the church must beware of “false prophets” who will disseminate false information about his coming, employing impressive “signs and wonders” to validate their claims.

When Jesus does come, there will be no mistaking the event. It will be accompanied by celestial upheaval and, presumably, the entire world will witness his arrival in “great power and glory.”
  • (Mark 13:21-27) - “And then if any man will say unto 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 lead astray, 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 together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.
And then” (kai tote). In the ‘Olivet Discourse,’ this Greek adverb of time is used to mark new paragraphs and changes in the subject matter. Here, it signifies the discussion has moved to matters after the events surrounding the appearance of the “abomination of desolation.”

"Lo, here is the Christ; or, Lo - Believe it not: for there will arise false Christs and false prophets and show signs and wonders.” These words present a clear echo of the warning of Moses about false prophets recorded in the book of Deuteronomy. Note the verbal parallels:
  • (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 unto the words of that prophet, or unto that dreamer of dreams: for Yahweh your God is proving you, to know whether you love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
The same two Greek nouns rendered “signs and wonders” in the passage from Deuteronomy are 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. The ability to perform miraculous “signs” does not validate the words of anyone.

Just as Moses warned Israel, so also Jesus forewarns his disciples - (“I have told you all things beforehand”). The goal of the “false prophets” and the “false messiahs” is to mislead the “elect,” the people of God. Like the false prophets among Israel, they will serve to “prove” or test the “elect,” whether they will remain faithful or not.

But take heed.” This is the same clause employed at the start of the ‘Discourse’ to warn disciples about “deceivers” from whom the disciples would “hear” about wars and “reports of wars,” men who, upon the authority of Christ, point to various calamities as indicators of the “end.” 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 hath said, and among the remnant those whom Yahweh does call.”
The connection of the future return of Jesus to the Old Testament “Day of the Lord” is common in the New Testament. Here, his words 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, the stress falls on the salvation of the “elect” – “He will send forth the angels and will gather his elect” – A prominent theme in the passage from Joel – (“Whoever will call on the name of Yahweh will be delivered…there will be those that escape…among the remnant those whom Yahweh does call”).

In the New Testament, the term “elect” is applied to the faithful people of God, especially to those identified with 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…the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken.” Celestial upheaval is a common theme in prophecies about the “Day of the Lord.” Whether this is meant in a strictly literal sense or metaphorically, it points to chaotic events that will accompany the arrival of Jesus. This will be something much more than just a transition from one era to another. The image suggests the irruption into the present created order of an entirely new order – The new creation.

They see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” The statement alludes to a key passage from the book of Daniel, the same one that provided Jesus with the appellation he applied frequently to himself – The “Son of Man”:
  • (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 includes 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 lead astray, if possible, the elect.” In the last instance, “they” refers to the “false prophets” and “false messiahs” that perform “signs and wonders” to deceive disciples of Jesus.
Note well - Although secular authorities may carry out judicial sentences against the disciples, “they,” the deceivers and internal opponents who betray the saints to governing authorities receive far harsher criticism.
In short, “they” refers to the opponents of the disciples, especially to the deceivers working within their midst. In whatever ways this day will impact the rest of the earth, it will mean the judgment of the deceivers – The persecutors of the saints - But also the deliverance of the “elect.” Compare the following two passages that express the same idea:
  • (Isaiah 60:1-3, 14) – “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of Yahweh is risen upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples; but Yahweh will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising…[14] And the sons of them that afflicted you will come bending to you; and all they that despised you will bow themselves down at the soles of your feet; and they will call you The city of Yahweh, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel.”
  • (Revelation 3:9-10) – “Behold, I give of the synagogue of Satan, of them that say they are Jews, and they are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved you. Because you kept the word of my patience, I also will keep you from the hour of trial, which is to come upon the whole habitable earth, to try them that dwell upon the earth.
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…[10-11] And it will come to pass, in that day, that the root of Jesse, that stands for an ensign of the peoples, unto 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, that will remain, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea. 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.”
The Old Testament background demonstrates that “elect” is not used by Jesus in the sense of ‘predestination,’ but instead refers to the remnant of his followers who remain faithful throughout all their trials until the bitter end. The traditional language of gathering the remnant of Israel out of the nations of the earth is applied to the disciples of Jesus.

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. As to what happens to the "false prophets" and the "deceivers" after his arrival - "They" - That is not addressed at this point in the 'Discourse.'


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