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What Does Jesus Mean When He Says He is Coming on the Clouds?
Archdiocese of Washington ^ | 4/14/2014 | Msgr. Charles Pope

Posted on 04/15/2014 1:46:30 AM PDT by markomalley

Continuing to look at some of the text from the Passion according to St. Matthew, we come to the trial of Jesus before Caiaphas the high priest.

Having heard false and conflicting testimony from various witnesses, Caiaphas turns to Jesus, and here is what we pick up the text:

The high priest rose and addressed him, “Have you no answer? What are these men testifying against you?” But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him, “I order you to tell us under oath before the living God whether you are the Christ the son of God.” Jesus said to him and reply, “You have said so. But I tell you: from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Let’s look at part of this text in three stages.

I. Obedience to Lawful Authority – Jesus has remained silent in the trial thus far. But at a critical moment in the trial, Caiaphas puts Jesus under oath. Caiaphas, as high priest, has the authority to do this. And on account of this, Jesus will in fact make an answer. In so doing, he demonstrates obedience to lawful authority.

Nowhere does Scripture counsel disrespect or disobedience to lawful authority. Jesus accepts the lawful authority of Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin currently have. Earlier he had counseled his disciples The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. (Matt 23:2-3)

Likewise, he would later say to Pilate You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above (Jn 19:11). And while he reminds pilot that he will answer for his use of authority, he does acknowledge that Pilate has it, and has it from God.

St. Paul would counsel and remind the early ChristiansEvery person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves (Rom 13:1-3)

None of these counsels and commands are to be taken to mean that those in authority were good, or even just men. We have the authorities we deserve, and which God permits,  and unless they command us to do something objectively evil, Scripture teaches that we are to obey lawful authority and show proper respect. If even Jesus can stand before the likes of Caiaphas, and Pontius Pilate and accept their authority, how much more so for us.

Accepting the authority of those over us, does not mean we never air our differences or express our concerns. Jesus plainly did this, as did Paul and others. But at the end of the day, even less-than-perfect authorities are to be obeyed when they legitimately command us.

Thus, as we shall now see Jesus, having been put under oath will answer the high priest.

II. Oath – Jesus is put under oath and ordered to answer whether or not he is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus answers, “You say so.”

This answer may at first seem to us evasive and mildly disrespectful. But as we shall see, Jesus seeks to distinguish what he means by the term Messiah, or Christ. For many used the word “Messiah” in a way that Jesus was not comfortable with. Many understood the Messiah as a political figure, or a military leader. But Jesus spoke of himself as a suffering Messiah who would bear the sins of the people, and having suffered and died, would rise on the third day.

The Messiah was to be a king, but not a king of this world. He was to wage war, but not against the Romans or some other enemy of flesh and blood, but against Satan and the forces of darkness.

Thus, when Jesus is told to declare whether or not he is the Messiah, his expression “You say so” could also be rendered, “Those are your words.” Or more extensively,

“Yes I am a Messiah, but not in the way you understand. I am the Christ, the Messiah, but I have not come to wage war; I am not here to dislodge the Romans or to act in a way that you fear will bring Roman crackdown. No, I have come to suffer and die for the sins of the people. I’ve come to fulfill Scripture which says of the Messiah: He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed….the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Is 53:5-6)

I have come to reconcile man to God and reopen the gates of heaven. Am I the Messiah, the Christ? You say so. And you’re right. But you and I do not mean “Messiah” or “Christ” in any way remotely close.

As for confirming whether or not he is the Son of the living God, here too, Jesus prefers different terminology which to our ears seems a lesser title that “Son of God.” Jesus refers to himself as the “Son of Man.”

Though to modern ears, “Son of Man” seems a lower title than “Son of God,”  biblically this is not really the case. In the Scriptures, the title “Son of God,” or “Sons of God,” could refer to the Angels, or it could also refer to human beings who were made in the image and likeness of God. For if God is their creator, he was in essence a Father to them, and they were his sons.

Of course, Jesus often did refer to himself as God’s Son in a unique sense, declaring that he and his Father were one (Jn 10:30), that to see Him was to see the Father (Jn 14:9), and he would often speak equivocally of himself and the Father, for example saying,  My Father is working until now, and I am working (Jn 5:17).

And thus, to believers in Jesus, Jesus was in fact the Son of God in a unique, perfect and sublime way. But for a typical Jew of the first century to hearing Jesus call himself the Son the living God, the effect would be ambiguous and might not even shock every Jew who heard it.

Thus, the Jesus does not simply answer back the high priest, “Yes I am the Son of the living God,” but he goes on to call himself the Son of Man. In so doing, he taps into a passage from the Book of Daniel that speaks of the Messiah in high and divine terms. And to Jewish years, the title “Son of Man” while rarely used, was a far more exalted title for Jesus to claim of himself then the title “Son of the living God.”

Here is the passage from the book of Daniel to which Jesus refers:

As I (Daniel) looked, “thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened...In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. Daniel (7: 9-14)

And thus we see that Jesus claims for himself a high and exulted title wherein he is the great eschatological King, the one who shall rule over all the nations, and his kingdom shall never be taken away. But as Son of Man, he rules from heaven.

The title so shocks the high priest, but he rends his garments and declares Jesus has blasphemed, equating himself to God. And that leads us to the third point

III. Omnipotence – Since we have already read the text from Daniel, it is clear to us that Jesus is speaking of the glory of his reign, and it is great omnipotence. They will one day see him seated at the right hand of God in heaven, and also coming on the clouds of heaven, whether they like it not. For this is who he is, the Lord and King of glory, and of his kingdom there shall be no end. And he shall come on the clouds in judgment on the nations, he will judge the world by fire.

But what does it mean to say that he will come on the clouds? Too many of us moderns think only in literal terms of this. Such a literal interpretation is surely not impossible for God. In fact the Lord Jesus may on the last day and be seen coming in the clouds.

But we ought not simply reduce it to this, for Jesus was also speaking to the men of his day of something they would also see and experience. Thus we ought not simply see his reference to coming on the clouds as some early form of airline travel or a kind literalistic insistence that they would one day be able to look up in the sky and see him to the right of a large cumulonimbus cloud.

The ancient Jews used expressions just like we do. And while these expressions express truth, they often use images, similes, metaphors and allegories, which of themselves need not always be taken literally. For example, we moderns often speak of being “starstruck.” But of course we don’t literally mean that stars struck us. Rather we mean that we are struck by something which awed us in the way that we often experience awe as we look up at the stars at night. Sometimes we also speak of something coming “out of the blue.” We do not mean literally that it came out of some blue section of the sky and hit us over the head. Instead we mean that whatever it was, came to us as if out of nowhere.  More recently we speak of storing our information “in the cloud.” But of course we don’t mean that our data is literally in the condensate zones of upward turbulence that we call clouds. We are using a metaphor to describe our data being up above us somewhere and accessible and able to be seen in many places “below.”

And thus, when Jesus speaks of coming on the clouds, we need not interpret this merely a crude and literalist way.

To the ancient Jews, the clouds were an image of glory, were an image of heaven, and were also an image of God’s judgment. As an image of glory, the clouds both revealed and hid God’s glory. In the Exodus, God led them in the pillar of cloud by day, which appeared as a column of fire by night. This cloud, both revealed God’s presence and yet also hid it. In the desert, the presence of God was indicated by the shekinah, the glory-cloud that the descended on the tent of meeting. It both revealed God’s glory and presence, and yet also hid it from the people could not withstand God’s glory in all of its fullness.

So at one level, Jesus, in saying that the men of his day would see him as the Son of Man coming on the clouds, is another way of saying they would see him in all of his glory. They would see and experience his powerful Kingdom breaking into this world whether they liked it or not. The Temple and an exclusive Israel was going away. The fulfillment of ancient Israel, the Church, God’s Kingdom, was breaking in. The Temple, the symbol of ancient Israel, was going to be swept away.

In another sense the clouds also show forth God’s judgment. Throughout the Scriptures, the clouds are often a symbol of God’s judgment come down on Israel, or other nations. The clouds symbolize God visiting judgment on the people and nation. Here are a few examples:

  1. Zeph 1:15 Near is the great day of the LORD, Near and coming very quickly; Listen, the day of the LORD! … That day will be a day of wrath– a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness..

  2. Blow a trumpet in Zion, And sound an alarm on My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, For the day of the LORD is coming; Surely it is near, A day of darkness and gloom, A day of clouds and thick darkness. …. There has never been anything like it, Nor will there be again after it To the years of many generations. (Joel 2:1-4)

  3. For the day is near, the day of the LORD is near– a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations….Dark will be the day at Tahpanhes when I break the yoke of Egypt; there her proud strength will come to an end. She will be covered with clouds, and her villages will go into captivity. (Ex 30:3, 18)

  4. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. (Ex 34:12)

And thus, in saying that he was coming on the clouds, Jesus was saying to them that they would experience his judgment on the nation for rejecting his saving love. Jesus it already tearfully lamented the great description that was coming upon Jerusalem for lack of belief in a sermon called the Mount Olivet Discourse (Mark 13, Matthew 24, Luke 21). Exactly 40 years after his death the great destruction he predicted came to pass. Jerusalem and the temple were utterly destroyed in 70 A.D. The Temple was never again to be rebuilt. The Lord did indeed come in a great cloud judgment on ancient Israel!

So much in such a short few lines! But, as you can see, the trial of Jesus before Caiaphas was dramatic and has much to teach us.


TOPICS: Catholic
KEYWORDS: clouds; msgrcharlespope; prophecy; weather

1 posted on 04/15/2014 1:46:30 AM PDT by markomalley
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To: Biggirl; ConorMacNessa; Faith65; GreyFriar; Heart-Rest; Mercat; Mrs. Don-o; Nervous Tick; ...

Msgr Pope ping


2 posted on 04/15/2014 1:46:57 AM PDT by markomalley (Nothing emboldens the wicked so greatly as the lack of courage on the part of the good -- Leo XIII)
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To: markomalley

I take it to mean that he is coming on the clouds.


3 posted on 04/15/2014 5:25:58 AM PDT by Buckeye McFrog
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To: markomalley; Tax-chick; GregB; Berlin_Freeper; SumProVita; narses; bboop; SevenofNine; ...
In his book Salvation is from the Jews, Roy Schoeman, a Jewish convert, addresses the silence of Christ before the High Priest by citing the Lemann brothers.


Lemann Brothers - Jewish Converts and Catholic Priests

The Lemann brothers made the touching point that Jesus' silence before the High Priest was motivated by His profound respect for the office of the Jewish Priesthood. Mosaic law forbids compelling a witness to testify against himself. It was because Jesus did not want to put the High Priest in the position of sinning against that law that He refused to answer the High Priest's questions even though beaten for it (Jn 18:19-23). Jesus acquiesced only when the High Priest ordered Him to answer in the name of God.

4 posted on 04/15/2014 5:30:10 AM PDT by NYer ("You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears." James 4:14)
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To: Buckeye McFrog

It’s a symbol of judgement.
And Caiaphas knew it, and it’s what made him so mad.

This Man standing before him that should have been showing “respect for his authoritai!” was telling him that he, Jesus, was going to divinely judge him.


5 posted on 04/15/2014 5:32:12 AM PDT by MrB (The difference between a Humanist and a Satanist - the latter admits whom he's working for)
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To: markomalley

Luke 17
20 And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:

21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

23 And they shall say to you, See here; or, see there: go not after them, nor follow them.

24 For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day.


6 posted on 04/15/2014 6:23:29 AM PDT by ravenwolf
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To: markomalley

**Exactly 40 years after his death the great destruction he predicted came to pass. Jerusalem and the temple were utterly destroyed in 70 A.D. The Temple was never again to be rebuilt. The Lord did indeed come in a great cloud judgment on ancient Israel!**

And I believe with all that is happening in the U. S. that Christ is coming around on many clouds of judgment on our nation.


7 posted on 04/15/2014 8:35:16 AM PDT by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: All
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8 posted on 04/15/2014 8:37:25 AM PDT by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: NYer
The Lemann brothers made the touching point that Jesus' silence before the High Priest was motivated by His profound respect for the office of the Jewish Priesthood.

That's not what the scripture says: "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth." (Acts 8:32 which is a quote of...)

"He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth." (Isaiah 53:6)

How could they miss the obvious point of his silence? They are unsaved.

9 posted on 04/15/2014 8:44:27 AM PDT by nonsporting
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To: Buckeye McFrog

Yes, that bold font last line is nonsense.


10 posted on 04/19/2014 3:55:14 AM PDT by F15Eagle (1Jn4:15;5:4-5,11-13;Mt27:50-54;Mk15:33-34;Jn3:17-18,6:69,11:25,14:6,20:31;Ro10:8-11;1Tm2:5-6;Ti3:4-7)
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