When reading prophetic passages, we must oftentimes ask ourselves the old question: “Is this literal, or is it figurative?” There are some theologians who interpret everything in a strict literal sense. Then there are others, no less strict, who would see in every verse of the Bible some allegorical enigma–which, of course, only they can solve. A correct system of hermeneutics would tend to avoid both extremes. Nevertheless, there are some Scriptures in which the literal sense is to be greatly preferred over the figurative.
For instance, how does one interpret such a passage as Rev. 1:7: “Behold, He cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see Him“? The text itself enforces a literal interpretation. If every eye shall see Christ’s return, then He must come in the literal clouds of heaven. Nevertheless, do have any right to link this visible, glorious coming with other Scriptures in the New Testament which speak of the “clouds of heaven”? I’d like in this brief article to show how the descriptive texts of prophecy harmonize in a wonderful manner, & point to a visible return of Jesus Christ at the end of the present age.
First of all, let us remember that when Christ ascended into heaven in the eyes of His apostles, “He was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1: 9). All commentators agree that it was a real cloud which received Jesus. If not, then any factual statement in the New Testament can be explained away. We cannot condone any such tampering of Scriptures as would render the cloud symbolic in nature. The cloud must be understood as visible.
Now, when the angels who stood by the apostles in white apparel spoke, they said: “Ye men of Galillee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1: 11). The phrase “in like manner” informs us that Christ will return visibly, in a real cloud. In fact, if we look throughout the New Testament, we’ll find that Christ’s return is always described as being accompanied by celestial phenomena. One of these phenomena includes the conveyance of Christ on visible clouds.
Remember our Lord’s Olivet Discourse, when He told Peter, James, John, & Andrew: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days, shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24: 29-30).
Note the correspondence of these verses with Revelation 1: 7: “Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him.” Both passages speak of the same event. There will be a great lamentation & mourning when the King comes back to reign. Obviously, there can be no mourning unless the tribes of the earth know that He is coming to reign. Hence the visible nature of the “signs” which precede His appearing.
These premonitory signs will culminate with Christ’s visible return “in the clouds of heaven.” And Christ has promised that when He returns, His elect will be ‘raptured.’ “And He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matt. 24: 31). When Christ comes, the saints will be resurrected. This passage is a standing refutation to Dispensationalism, which teaches a “secret rapture” prior to the Great Tribulation. According to Christ’s own words, the rapture will occur “after the tribulation.”
In fact, we believe that this “gathering together” predicted by Christ is identical to the “catching up” mentioned by Paul: “For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4: 16-17).
Paul corrobates this evidence when he states that there will be a “gathering together” of the saints at Christ’s return (2 Thess. 2:1). This will be the time when the saints are glorified (2 Thess. 1: 10) and the wicked punished. In no ambiguous terms, Paul writes that this will occur “when the Lord Jesus Christ shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels” (2 Thess. 1: 7). Please note that it is these very angels who are to gather together the elect (Mark 13: 27), and also to reap the harvest of the earth when the Lord comes in a visible cloud (Revelation 14: 14-20).
Then, too, Daniel prophesied that following the Great Tribulation there would be a resurrection of the ‘visible church.’ “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12: 2). This resurrection is followed by the glorification of the righteous (Daniel 12: 3), and will transpire after the three-and-a-half years of Antichrist’s persecution against the saints (Daniel 12: 7).
When Christ returns, the angel shall sound his trumpet, and the dead will be raised in the sight of their enemies. They shall ascend into heaven in a visible cloud. John writes: “And they heard a great voice from heaven, saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud” (Revelation 11: 12). When will this happen? When the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ (Revelation 11: 15; Zechariah 14: 9); when the Lord returns to the Mount of Olives from when He ascended, to avenge Himself upon those who wage battle against Jerusalem (Zechariah 14).
Listen to Christ once more: “Then two shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left; two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left” (Matt. 24: 40-41). What can this signify but the effective separation of the wheat from the tares at the “end of the age”? In Christ’s parable of the wheat and the tares, He interprets the word ‘aion’ as signifying “this life” (Matt. 13: 22; cf. Luke 8: 14); that is, the present natural order of things, which shall terminate upon Christ’s visible glorious return to rule and reign over the world in righteousness.
Then, when all secular world powers are abolished, the prophecies of Daniel shall be fulfilled. “I saw in the night visions, and behold, one like the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. And there was given to Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7: 13-14).
Thus we find in all these passages a remarkable correspondence, & a confirmation of the inspired literality of New Testament Scripture. There is but one “coming” of Christ “in the clouds of heaven.” And these are literal clouds! This coming will be at a crucial time, when Antichrist will have mobilized all the military forces of the world to the city of Jerusalem to try to prevent Christ’s coming to reign over the earth. We are to look for our Lord’s return with gladness and joy, & to persevere in holiness that we may be found acceptable in that day. Blessed are all they who love His appearing.
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“The Acts 1:11 Trap”
The most taken out of context verse in the entire bible! This verse has nothing to do with Christ coming back to earth–it is strictly about him ascending to heaven.
Ye men of Galillee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven”
At least in a literal word for word translation like the KJV, YLT, NASB, ESV, HCSV you have a chance of understanding this verse. If you look at a thought for thought translation of the verse they all change the meaning of the verse to read something about Christ coming back to earth.
The NIV reads: …will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
The NLT reads: …but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”
The translators mean well of course, but they badly misfired on this verse. The root cause of the problem is not understanding how the Greeks use the verb “come”.
If you take a Westernized approach to the verse the come generally has a sense of direction implied that implies that the object of come is moving toward the speaker or observer. The Greeks used the verb to indicate that the object traveled from point A to point B and there was no implied direction.
leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Here the subject comes to his brother like Jesus come into heaven.) The brother being come to could be in any direction not necessarily the direction of the speaker.
And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” (He travels to him, but you can’t tell which direction he is moving int.)
And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” (Here come is not moving in the direction of the speaker, but towards the object being spoken to)
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. (The subject moving away from his current location to the location of another)
Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (Again not moving toward the observer, but the subject moving in some other direction to go to the location of another)
I’ll stop here, but you could fill the page up with such examples of where the verb come does not imply some one is coming to the speaker or observer, but going in some other direction.
If Luke hadn’t shortened the verse a little and had instead said “come into heaven” which is implied and understood by his 1st century audience instead of just “come in” it would be easy for the Westernized readers of this verse to understand its actual meaning.
Further evidence that Luke is trying to prove that Jesus ascended to heaven is the fact that not one but two angels witness his coming into heaven.
Verse 10 reads “And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes,”
Remember the requirement for two witnesses…Deuteronomy 19:15
Young’s Literal Translation
‘One witness doth not rise against a man for any iniquity, and for any sin, in any sin which he sinneth; by the mouth of two witnesses, or by the mouth of three witnesses, is a thing established.
Having two witnesses testify that Jesus came into heaven is necessary because Jesus is not the only one claiming to be the Messiah and it is necessary to validate his claim to Messiahship over other contenders by verifying that Jesus went to heaven when he left earth.
So why is it so important to get this verse in the proper context, because those who view Christ’s return as a future event to us instead of placing it in 70 AD (Preterist position) use it to expect a bodily, physical return of Jesus as opposed to his Second Advent being one of coming in judgment against Jerusalem. This is consistent with his tying his second coming to the end of the Old Covenant Age and destruction of the Temple. This is consistent with Christ saying that “this generation” would live to see it and that John specifically would live to see it.
The bible is written from a Jewish perspective and the end times to them is the end of the Jewish Covenant–not the end of the Christian age. There are only two ages ever spoken of–the present age (Old Covenant or Jews in covenant relationship to God) and the age to come (Christian, age without end, new covenant)which we are living in now. When the old age ended the new age began or when the Old Covenant ended the new Covenant began.
Jesus’ second coming ended the old age and brought in the new age.
Thanks Brian for the blog where we can express out different points of view. Even though we preterists and futurists disagree on the second coming we both understand the most essential point of Christianity which is to accept Christ as your personal savior in the forgiveness of our sins.
Believe it or not, I used to be a Full Preterist! Some of my friends are full preterists. I also did a podcast with Sam Frost recently, in which I agreed that the only correct form of Preterism is “Full” or consistent preterism.
But for all that, I am not a preterist.
You’re right that the Bible was written from a Jewish perspective. But you forget that the nation of Israel is a perpetual generation. You may want to take a look at the following Scriptures:
Genesis 13: 14-15;
2 Chronicles 20: 7
Genesis 48: 4
Genesis 17: 7
Leviticus 24: 8
1 Chronicles 16: 17-18
Also, take a look at Exodus 12: 14
Leviticus 16: 29-31
Numbers 10: 8, etc.
Note that the phrase “for ever” used in setting down the Mosaic statutes is the same Hebrew word used in Ecclesiastes 1: 4: “The earth abideth for ever.” As you know, that is a Full Preterist proof-text for the perpetuity of the earth.
Now, look at Jeremiah 31: 35-36 & 33: 25-26
The nation of Israel is co-extensive with the Genetic ordinances. It is this promise which Christ refers to in Matthew 24: 34-35.
In Biblical terms, “This generation” always means “The Jews.” As long as heaven and earth remain, the nation of Israel will exist. Thus, the Old Covenant did not pass away in A.D. 70. There isn’t a single verse in Scripture that says that God’s covenant with Israel would be abrogated after the destruction of their temple.
Also, read Deuteronomy 30: 1. Before you The “curses” refer to Deut. 28, which F.P.’s claim happened in A.D. 70. Now, move on and read the rest of Deuteronomy 30.
The promises hold good after the Jews are driven out of their land.
I can prove from many O.T. texts that the Jews will be gathered back to their land. The belief that the O.C. ended in A.D. 70 is a false premise foisted upon the church by Protestant commentators who spiritualized the land promises. This is Anti-Semitic, and I’m glad that it is being relegated to the scrap-piles of barbarous superstition. Anti-Semitism will never prevail in Christ’s church, because people today are more socially enlightened than they were 500 years ago.
Peace and Health,
What model do you think best–I don’t see any mention of the rapture looking around your site so I’m guessing classic Premillennialism.
A couple years ago I learned how John Darby created his model of dispensationalism and realized I couldn’t support that position any longer and upon studying the various models out there decided Full Preterism was the most logical, consistent, and straight forward model hence I’m a full preterist.
I think over the course of a few hundred years the church will slowly embrace full preterism because it is the most logical just as it slowly saw the logic that the earth was not the center of the universe and embraced that view.
Yes, Historic Pre-Mil is the “ticket” I’m running on. I’m a Southern Baptist too. Like Dispensationalists, I believe in the future literal restoration of Israel. Those promises occupy most of the O.T. prophets, and it still amazes me how they’ve been so indiscriminately applied to “the church.” How did the prophets themselves understand such terms as “Israel,” “House of David,” “Jerusalem,” etc. They refer no doubt to the Jewish nation, which stands as long as the sun and moon endure.
Peace and Health,