“Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.”[Revelation 1:7]
I love clouds. They can be both peaceful and ominous. Bright and Dark. Transparent and Dense. Calming and threatening. Clouds provide shade and rain. They bring storms and radiate the light of the sun. They keep us looking upward to heavens — where God resides.
Believe it or not, the Bible has so much to say about the clouds and the Day of the LORD. But first, let us discover how the Biblical authors speak about the purpose of the clouds and the very presence of God.
He Wraps Himself in Light
“Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.”[Ezekiel 1:28]
How can human writers communicate about an Immortal, Invisible God? This is one of the great challenges of trying to convey heavenly concepts in earthly terms. The Biblical authors were limited to using human language to describe the divine.
Fortunately, God has chosen to reveal Himself to mankind within the context of the physical world and more specifically in the person of Jesus Christ, who is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” [Hebrews 1:3]. God the Son — Jesus — is the image of the invisible God, and therefore anytime the Biblical authors describe the LORD in physical form, Jesus is in view.
As we will see in a moment, Jesus is the central focus whenever the Bible refers to God coming in the clouds, or with the clouds, or riding on the clouds. All of these various descriptions convey the same idea — namely God’s visible presence and glory and power and majesty.
No one could ever survive the unsuppressed light of God’s glory. No mortal can see the face of God and live. As Paul says, God “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see” [1 Timothy 6:16], so when God so chooses to manifest Himself to mankind, He must veil His glory and suppress the radiance of His light.
This is where clouds come into the picture. Clouds are a covering for Almighty God and a canopy containing His glory.
“Thick clouds veil him, so that he does not see, and he walks on the vault of heaven.”[Job 22:14]
Bless the LORD, O my soul![Psalm 104:1-3]
O LORD my God, you are very great!
You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
covering yourself with light as with a garment,
stretching out the heavens like a tent.
He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters;
he makes the clouds his chariot;
he rides on the wings of the wind;
The LORD at Sinai
“The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.”[Exodus 34:5]
It can be argued that the Exodus from Egypt is the most important theological event in the Old Testament, but also the Exodus and subsequent theophany at Mount Sinai provide the most comprehensive foreshadowing of the Day of the LORD.
The LORD poured out wrath on all of Egypt with 10 plagues and at the same time protected His people Israel in the midst of it all. The LORD led the procession of His redeemed marching through the wilderness with a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. The LORD then gathered the entire camp at the base of Mount Sinai, revealing His glory in thunderings, lightning, fire, trumpets and an earthquake. Moses and all of Israel trembled in fear.
Then the LORD “came down” out of heaven in a cloud to Sinai — the manifestation of His physical presence on earth. The clouds provided God’s covering, protecting Moses and the people from certain death.
“Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the LORD dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel.[Exodus 24:15-17]
He is Coming on the Clouds
Now that it has been established that the clouds provide a visible covering for the glory of the LORD and a canopy to contain the brilliance of His light, it is easier to understand how the clouds are directly connected to the Day of the LORD — that final Day when the LORD returns to earth to wage war against the wicked.
The prophecies of both the Old and New Testaments are brimming with references to the clouds and the Day of the LORD.
Having already made reference of the theophany at Sinai, I would like to turn my attention to the wealth of other prophetic passages that describe God coming from heaven, visibly on the clouds in glory and judgment.
I would like to begin with a Psalm of David that is often overlooked as one of the most comprehensive Day of the LORD prophecies.
“In my distress I called upon the LORD;[Psalm 18:6-15]
to my God I cried for help.
From his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry to him reached his ears. Then the earth reeled and rocked;
the foundations also of the mountains trembled
and quaked, because he was angry.
Smoke went up from his nostrils,
and devouring fire from his mouth;
glowing coals flamed forth from him.
He bowed the heavens and came down;
thick darkness was under his feet.
He rode on a cherub and flew;
he came swiftly on the wings of the wind.
He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him,
thick clouds dark with water.
Out of the brightness before him
hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds. The LORD also thundered in the heavens,
and the Most High uttered his voice,
hailstones and coals of fire.
And he sent out his arrows and scattered them;
he flashed forth lightnings and routed them.
Then the channels of the sea were seen,
and the foundations of the world were laid bare
at your rebuke, O LORD,
at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.
Psalms 97 & 144 convey the very same message.
“Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. Fire goes before him and burns up his adversaries all around. His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees and trembles. The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, before the Lord of all the earth.”[Psalm 97:2-5]
“Bow your heavens, O LORD, and come down![Psalm 144:5-6]
Touch the mountains so that they smoke!
Flash forth the lightning and scatter them;
send out your arrows and rout them!”
Daniel 7 is one of the most foundational Day of the LORD passages in the Old Testament. Daniel’s vision provides key details about the end-times kingdom of the Antichrist and how the Son of Man returns from heaven on the clouds to destroy the Beast and establish His everlasting kingdom on earth. In using the title Son of Man, Jesus was declaring Himself to be the One who will be coming on the clouds on that Day!
“I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven[Daniel 7:13-14]
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.”
Almost every Old Testament prophet desires this final Day when the LORD visibly descends from heaven to the earth to take vengeance on the ungodly. Consider the testimony of the Biblical prophets.
“Behold, the storm of the LORD![Jeremiah 23:19-20]
Wrath has gone forth,
a whirling tempest;
it will burst upon the head of the wicked.
The anger of the LORD will not turn back
until he has executed and accomplished
the intents of his heart.
In the latter days you will understand it clearly.”
Son of man, prophesy, and say, Thus says the Lord GOD:
“Wail, ‘Alas for the day!’[Ezekiel 30:2-3]
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.”
“The great day of the LORD is near,[Zephaniah 1:14-15]
near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter;
the mighty man cries aloud there.
A day of wrath is that day,
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness.”
“Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud[Isaiah 19:1]
and comes to Egypt;
and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence,
and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.”
“For behold, the LORD will come in fire,[Isaiah 66:15-16]
and his chariots like the whirlwind,
to render his anger in fury,
and his rebuke with flames of fire.
For by fire will the LORD enter into judgment,
and by his sword, with all flesh;
and those slain by the LORD shall be many.”
After a sampling from the Old Testament prophets, let us take a look at how the imagery of the clouds are used in the New Testament to connect the reader with the Day of the LORD and the final judgement.
And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”[Acts 1:9-11]
Jesus uses the very same cloud imagery to describe His return to earth in power and great glory. All three synoptic gospels contain His Olivet Discourse, so I will only share one here.
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, 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. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”[Matthew 24:29-31]
The Apostle Paul echoes the words of Jesus in his epistles.
“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”[1 Thessalonians 4:16-18]
Finally, I want to provide a sampling from the book of Revelation that collectively builds on the imagery of the clouds.
When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”[Revelation 6:12-17]
Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped.[Revelation 14:14-16]
“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.”[Revelation 19:11-16]
He Marches forth in Judgment in a Whirlwind
I have one last thought concerning the LORD coming with the clouds in judgment. There are several passages that seem to imply that once the LORD comes down to earth, He will march forth in a cloud, or whirlwind, and lead His army on a deliberate campaign against His enemies.
This is what I consider to be the procession of the LORD on that Day when He marches against His enemies from Sinai to Jerusalem, striking down every wicked nation along the way.
I will spend more time on the judgment of the nations in a later post, but for now it appears that there is a possibility that the Lord Jesus will return with the clouds to the earth, and then He will commence to marching in a swift cloud as He takes vengeance on His enemies. The following passages appear to be drawing this distinction.
“Then the LORD will appear over them,[Zechariah 9:14-15]
and his arrow will go forth like lightning;
the Lord GOD will sound the trumpet
and will march forth in the whirlwinds of the south.
The LORD of hosts will protect them,
and they shall devour, and tread down the sling stones,
and they shall drink and roar as if drunk with wine,
and be full like a bowl,
drenched like the corners of the altar.”
“God shall arise, his enemies shall be scattered;[Psalm 68:1-3]
and those who hate him shall flee before him!
As smoke is driven away, so you shall drive them away;
as wax melts before fire,
so the wicked shall perish before God!
But the righteous shall be glad;
they shall exult before God;
they shall be jubilant with joy! Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts;
his name is the LORD;
exult before him!”
“The LORD is a jealous and avenging God;[Nahum 1:2-3]
the LORD is avenging and wrathful;
the LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries
and keeps wrath for his enemies.
The LORD is slow to anger and great in power,
and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty.
His way is in whirlwind and storm,
and the clouds are the dust of his feet.”
“But the multitude of your foreign foes shall be like small dust,[Isaiah 29:5-6]
and the multitude of the ruthless like passing chaff.
And in an instant, suddenly,
you will be visited by the LORD of hosts
with thunder and with earthquake and great noise,
with whirlwind and tempest, and the flame of a devouring fire.“