Until today many of us have read the Bible with the preconceived notion that Jesus will come on the clouds with signs and wonders. This is based on such words of Jesus as:
They will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds. -Matt. 24:30-31RS|KJ|NI
If we adhere closely to a literal interpretation, the biblical evidence indeed seems to point in that direction. However, the idea that Christ will return on the clouds is totally unacceptable to the scientific mind of the modern age. We find it necessary to probe more deeply into the Bible from another standpoint to grasp the true meaning of such verses.
The prophet Malachi had foretold that Elijah would return before the coming of the Messiah.10(Mal. 4:5)RS|KJ|NI As they eagerly awaited that day, many Jews believed that Elijah, who had ascended to heaven, would come down from heaven in the same way he had ascended. Contrary to their expectation, however, Jesus boldly claimed that John the Baptist, the son of Zechariah, was Elijah.11(Matt. 11:14)RS|KJ|NI If we believe Jesus' testimony, the return of Elijah was never meant to take place in the miraculous manner many Jewish people expected. In fact, it occurred through the birth of a child. In like manner, many Christians to the present day believe that Jesus will return on the clouds. However, what we have learned about the actual return of Elijah suggests another possibility: that Christ's return may be fulfilled through the birth of a child, just as at the First Coming. From this new perspective, let us closely re-examine the biblical verses concerning the Second Coming.
At the First Coming of Jesus, many of the learned men of Israel thought that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem as a descendant of King David.12(Matt. 2:5-6)RS|KJ|NI; (Mic. 5:2)RS|KJ|NI Yet there were undoubtedly many other Jews who expected the Messiah to come on the clouds. This belief was based on their reading of the prophecy of Daniel, "I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man,"13(Dan. 7:13)RS|KJ|NI and other prophecies of supernatural events in the Last Days.14(eg., Joel 2:30-31)RS|KJ|NI Therefore, the Pharisees and Sadducees questioned Jesus, demanding that he show them a sign from heaven as proof that he was the Messiah.15(Matt. 16:1-4)RS|KJ|NI; (Mark 8:11-12)RS|KJ|NI Without any of the supernatural signs from heaven foretold in the Bible, they could not readily accept him as the long-awaited Messiah. The belief that the Messiah should come supernaturally persisted after the death of Jesus, even among some heterodox Christians who believed that he had not come in a body of flesh. The apostle John condemned those believers as antichrists:
For many deceivers have gone out into the world, men who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh; such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. -II John 7RS|KJ|NI
Many Christians assert that the prophecy in Daniel concerns the Second Advent of Christ. However, in the Old Testament Age, God was working to fulfill the entire purpose of the providence of restoration with the coming of Jesus, as the Bible attests: "For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John,"16(Matt. 11:13)RS|KJ|NI and "For Christ is the end of the law, that every one who has faith may be justified."17(Rom. 10:4)RS|KJ|NI Thus, before Jesus himself began speaking about his return, no one ever even imagined a Second Advent. It is obvious that no Jew at the time thought this verse in Daniel referred to anything other than what they believed to be the first and only coming of the Messiah.
Contrary to the expectations of many faithful Jews who believed on biblical grounds that the Messiah would come on the clouds with signs and portents in the heavens, Jesus was born on the earth as a child in a lowly family. Hence, we should re-examine the Bible from the perspective that the Second Advent of Christ may not take place in a miraculous way. It may, in fact, take place in the same manner as the First Advent.
Christ Will Return as a Child on the Earth
Jesus made a number of predictions foretelling what would happen to the Lord at his return:
But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. -Luke 17:25RS|KJ|NI
If Jesus were to return literally on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory and with the trumpets of angels,18(Matt. 24:30-31)RS|KJ|NI would he not readily be accepted and honored, even by this sin-ridden world? Returning in such a manner, there is no way he would ever suffer persecution or rejection.
Why, then, did Jesus foretell that he would face such a miserable situation upon his return? The Jews of his day were eagerly looking forward to the day when Elijah would come down from heaven. He was supposed to come before the Messiah as his herald, as Malachi had prophesied.19(Mal. 4:5)RS|KJ|NI Instead, before the people had heard any news of Elijah's return, Jesus, a man of lowly birth, came like a thief, claiming to be the Messiah. Therefore, they despised Jesus and persecuted him.
As Jesus reflected upon his situation, he foresaw that at the Second Advent, the Christians awaiting his return would once more fix their gaze upon the sky. Hence, they would be likely to persecute Christ at the Second Advent when he is born in the flesh and appears unexpectedly, like a thief. They would condemn him as a heretic, just as Jesus was condemned. That is why he foretold that the Lord would suffer and be rejected by his generation. This prophecy can be fulfilled only if Christ returns in the flesh; it cannot possibly come true if he comes on the clouds.
I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth? -Luke 18:8RS|KJ|NI
As the world enters the Last Days, increasing numbers of Christians are striving to develop stronger faith. How can they all fall into faithlessness at the Second Advent of the Lord if he literally comes on the clouds of heaven amidst the sounds of angels' trumpets and the glory of God? This prophecy also cannot be fulfilled if Christ returns in a supernatural manner.
In Jesus' day, many Jews thought the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem and emerge as their king,21(Matt. 2:6)RS|KJ|NI but only after Elijah had returned from heaven. Contrary to this expectation, before Elijah had appeared, a carpenter's son from Nazareth stepped forward and presented himself as the Messiah. It is thus understandable that Jesus could not find any believer among the Jews faithful and zealous enough to follow him even to the point of death. Jesus grieved over this situation and lamented that something similar might happen upon his return. He foresaw that at the Second Advent, the believers would be looking only toward heaven, thinking that Christ will return on the clouds in glory. Therefore, when Christ does in fact return to the earth as a man of humble origins, he may not find any faith, as was the case in Jesus' day. This prophecy in Luke can never be fulfilled unless the returning Christ is born on the earth.
Some scholars interpret this verse to mean that the tribulations in the Last Days will be so severe as to cause all believers to become faithless. Yet in the course of the providence, no tribulation, no matter how bitter, has effectively blocked the way of the faithful. How much less so in the Last Days, when faithful Christians are eager to pass through the last gate to Heaven! It is the universal nature of faith that the greater our trials and tribulations, the more zealously we seek God's salvation.
Jesus once said:
On that day many will say to me, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?" And then will I declare to them, "I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers." -Matt. 7:22-23RS|KJ|NI
If a Christian is so faithful as to perform miracles in the name of the Lord, then how much more ardently would he believe in and serve the Lord when he comes on the clouds in great glory? Wouldn't Jesus then receive him warmly? Why, then, did Jesus speak as if he would reject such faithful Christians upon his return? If the returning Christ rejects such devout believers, who in the Last Days can possibly be saved? This prophecy also cannot be fulfilled if Jesus comes on the clouds.
In Jesus' day, there must have been many Jews whose faith was so ardent that they could perform miracles in God's name. Yet, since they believed that Elijah himself would descend from heaven before the Messiah came, it was hard for them to accept that Elijah was present among them as John the Baptist - all the more so because of John's denial.22(John 1:1-21)RS|KJ|NIHence, they did not accept Jesus as the Messiah and ostracized him from the community. Consequently, Jesus had to abandon them in tears. In like manner, at the Second Advent of Christ, those Christians who expect his miraculous and glorious appearance will almost certainly reject him if he comes in the flesh of humble birth. No matter how faithful they may be, the Lord will be left with no choice but to abandon them because they will have transgressed against God.
The series of prophecies concerning the Last Days in Luke, Chapter 17, cannot possibly be fulfilled if Christ returns in a supernatural manner. These verses can be explained only on the premise that Christ will return by being born on the earth. Let us examine each of them closely.
The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed. -Luke 17:20RS|KJ|NI
If the Lord comes on the clouds or in some miraculous way, the Kingdom of God will arrive in a manner conspicuous to everyone. Even at the First Advent, the Kingdom of God had already arrived on the earth with the birth of Jesus. Yet the Jewish people could not see it, for since they were still waiting for the return of Elijah from heaven, they could not believe in Jesus. Likewise, at the Second Advent, although the Kingdom of God will dawn upon the earth with the birth of Christ, Christians who believe that he will come on the clouds accompanied by supernatural events will disbelieve in the Lord and thus not see the Kingdom of God.
Behold, the kingdom of God is within you. -Luke 17:2123KJV
In Jesus' day, those who believed in and followed him had already partaken of the Kingdom of Heaven in their hearts. Likewise, at Christ's Second Advent, because he will be born on the earth, the Kingdom of Heaven will be realized first in the hearts of those who believe in him and follow him. When these individuals increase in number to form societies and nations, the Kingdom of Heaven within will gradually be manifested in the world as an outward, visible reality. Accordingly, Jesus meant that the promised Kingdom of Heaven will not be realized in an instant, as it would if Christ were to return on the clouds.
You will desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and you will not see it. -Luke 17:22RS|KJ|NI
If the Lord comes on the clouds with the sounds of angels' trumpets, everyone will be able to see him. Who, then, would desire to see the day of the Son of man and not see it? Yet Jesus foretold that the people will not see the day. At Jesus' First Advent, the day of the Son of man dawned upon the earth with his birth, yet the disbelieving Jews could not see the day. Likewise, at the Second Advent of Christ, the day of the Son of man will have dawned with his birth on earth. Yet many Christians will not be able to see the day because, convinced as they are that he will come in a miraculous way, they will not believe in him or follow him even after encountering him. Even though the day of the Son of man will have already come, they will not be able to see it.
Jesus was originally supposed to restore the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. He was to become the True Parent of restored humanity and the king of God's earthly kingdom.50(Isa. 9:6)RS|KJ|NI; (Luke 1:31-33)RS|KJ|NI However, due to the people's disbelief, he could not accomplish this original Will of God, but went to the cross promising to return at a later time and surely fulfill it. Accordingly, at the Second Advent, Christ is again responsible to build the Kingdom of Heaven on earth and there become the True Parent and king of all humanity. This is another reason why, as at his First Coming, Christ at his Second Coming must be born on the earth.
The redemption of sins is possible only through an earthly life.
To redeem our sins on the earth, Christ must come as a man on the earth. The salvation which Jesus provided through his crucifixion, however, is limited to the spiritual dimension. It does not resolve the original sin, which is transmitted through our physical bodies and remains active within us. Therefore, Christ must come again to provide complete salvation to humanity, including physical salvation. He certainly cannot achieve this if he comes only as a spirit. He must come in a physical body, as at his First Coming.
We have thus clarified that Christ's Second Coming will not be a spiritual coming, but a physical coming similar to the First Coming. Even supposing that Christ were to come back in spirit, it would be perplexing that the spirit, transcendent of time and space and perceptible only to the spiritual senses, would ride on clouds composed of matter. On the other hand, if the Second Advent were to occur through Christ's sudden appearance in the flesh, riding on the clouds, how could he stay aloft? Where would he reside prior to his appearance? Some people may object to such questions, arguing that for the omnipotent God nothing is impossible. However, God cannot ignore His own laws and principles. God does not and need not work His providence in violation of His own Principle by having Christ, who should return in flesh no different from our own, reside in outer space and then return borne on clouds. In conclusion, we have demonstrated beyond any doubt that the Second Advent of Christ will take place through his physical birth on the earth.
What is the Meaning of the Verse
that Christ Will Return on the Clouds?
Since Christ's return will take place through his birth on earth, what can be the meaning of the biblical prophecies that he will come on the clouds? To probe into this matter, we must first investigate what the clouds represent. The following passage is typical:
Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, every one who pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. -Rev. 1:7RS|KJ|NI
According to this verse, everyone should be able to see Christ when he returns. When St. Stephen was martyred, only he and those faithful Christians whose spiritual senses were open were able to see Jesus sitting at the right hand of God.52(Acts 7:55)RS|KJ|NI Likewise, if Jesus is to descend from the spirit world as a spirit, then only those believers whose spiritual senses are open will be able to see him; thus not every eye would see Christ when he comes again. The biblical prophecy that everyone will see the Lord can be fulfilled only if he returns in the flesh. Since a body of flesh cannot ride on the clouds, the clouds in the verse must symbolize something else.
In the same passage, it is also written that even those who pierced Jesus will see his return. Those who pierced Jesus were Roman soldiers. However, those Roman soldiers will not be able to see the Lord at his return. To behold the returning Lord, those soldiers must be resurrected; but according to the Bible, those who will be resurrected at Christ's return are only those faithful Christians who participate in the first resurrection. The rest of the spirits will be resurrected only after the passage of "a thousand years" in the Kingdom.53(Rom. 2:4-5)RS|KJ|NI Therefore, "every one who pierced him" must be a metaphor describing some other group of people, not the Roman soldiers. In fact, it refers to those Christians alive at the time of the Second Advent who hold fast to the belief that Jesus will return on the clouds. When Christ returns to the earth through a humble birth contrary to their expectation, they will not recognize him but will persecute him. If "every one who pierced him" is a metaphor, then the clouds in the same verse should also be metaphorical.
What do the clouds actually symbolize? Clouds are formed by the evaporation of impure water from the earth. In the Bible, water often symbolizes fallen people.54(Rev. 17:15)RS|KJ|NI; (Ps. 144:7)RS|KJ|NI We may deduce that clouds symbolize devout Christians whose hearts dwell in heaven and not on the earth because they have been reborn and raised from their fallen state. The Bible and other sacred scriptures also use the symbolism of clouds to indicate the multitudes.55(Heb. 12:1)RS|KJ|NI; (cf. Ezek. 38:9)RS|KJ|NI We sometimes find this figure of speech used in casual conversation. In Moses' course, the pillar of cloud which guided the Israelites by day represented Jesus, who was to come as the leader of Israel; the pillar of fire by night represented the Holy Spirit who, as Jesus' counterpart, would guide Israel by the fire of inspiration. We can conclude that Jesus' coming on the clouds signifies that he will emerge from among a group of reborn believers to become the leader of Christians, the Second Israel. Recall that when Jesus was asked about the place of his return, he replied, "Where the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together."56(Luke 17:37)RS|KJ|NI Jesus meant by this that he will return to the place where faithful believers have gathered, which basically signifies the same thing as the biblical prophecy that Christ will return on the clouds.
When we interpret the clouds metaphorically in this way, it is evident that at his First Coming Jesus himself symbolically came down from Heaven on the clouds. It is written, "The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven,"57(I Cor. 15:47)RS|KJ|NI and "No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man."58(John 3:13)RS|KJ|NI Even though Jesus was born on the earth, from the standpoint of the providence and with regard to his true value, he indeed came from Heaven. This is also the true meaning of the prophecy in Daniel59(Dan. 7:13)RS|KJ|NI which foretold that Jesus would come on the clouds.
Why Did Jesus Say that the Lord Will Come on the Clouds?
There are two reasons why Jesus prophesied that the Lord will return on the clouds. First, it was to prevent the delusions of antichrists from creating confusion among believers. If Jesus revealed plainly that he would return through a physical birth, then it would have been impossible to prevent false messiahs from causing great confusion. Since Jesus emerged as the Messiah from a humble background, anyone from any social stratum with a certain level of spirituality could claim to be his Second Advent and dazzle the world with a great delusion. Fortunately, since most Christians have expected Christ to return on the clouds and have fixed their gaze upon the sky, this turmoil has been largely avoided. Now, however, since the time is full, the truth that Christ will return through a physical birth must be revealed.
Second, it was to encourage Christians who were walking a difficult path of faith. There are other occasions when Jesus gave paradoxical words to encourage his followers to accomplish God's Will as rapidly as possible. For example, he said, "Truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel, before the Son of man comes."60(Matt. 10:23)RS|KJ|NI This led his disciples to believe that the Second Advent would take place in the near future. When Jesus told Peter of his approaching martyrdom, Peter asked him what would become of the disciple John. Jesus replied, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?"61(John 21:22)RS|KJ|NI Jesus also said, "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom."62(Matt. 16:28)RS|KJ|NI These sayings led the disciples to think they would meet the returning Jesus in their lifetime.
The hope of Jesus' imminent return inflamed the zeal of his disciples and gave them the strength to overcome persecution by Judaism and the Roman Empire. Encouraged by the ardent hope of the Second Advent, they were filled with the Holy Spirit63(Acts 2:1-4)RS|KJ|NI and established the early Christian Church, even amidst great adversity. Jesus wanted to inspire and encourage his disciples, who would be carrying a heavy cross. For this reason, he prophesied that he would come on the clouds in the power and glory of God and accomplish everything at lightning speed.
Exposition of the Divine Principle
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