There’s is that dirty word I know, “Theology” and I can make it worse by adding “Systematic”.  Instead of letting it worry you the idea is simply this: We want to understand ALL of what the Bible says on a certain subject and so we gather on the verses on that subject, like the Second Coming and we “systematize it”,  by finding out what each verse teaches about the subject and then we harmonize all the different facets together to make one big bountiful  diamond.

Contrary to popular belief the idea of Christ second coming is not introduced into the New Testament until this passage in Acts 1.11. I understand this statement runs counter to preterism and current dispensationalism teaching. The first reaction of any Bible student is what about Mathew 24:30 “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”.

Now in the Gospels there is one phrase that is used often and  found in Mathew 24:30, “coming on clouds”. The literal understanding of coming on clouds is found in Acts 1 where Jesus ascended and was taken up into the clouds and the angel promised the Lord would return in like manner, coming in clouds, therefore coming in clouds is the literal approach to accept what is the coming of the son of man. Based on these association it is commonly held then that the Mathew passage is also about the second coming since it is talking about his coming on clouds. If we examine the Mathew 24:30 passage from where Jesus is now also quoting from Daniel 7:13-14 (not from Acts 1) something different appears.

“Son of man, coming on clouds” comes from Daniel 7:13

I saw in the night visions,

and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.

This coming is a coming to the father in heaven and not a coming down. One scholar named Cashmere has the same opinion and expresses it’s a universal idea among scholars. He stated,

There is almost universal agreement that the term comes from Daniel 7:13-14. The Aramaic “like a human being” became in the LXX “son of man”. Jesus used this term as a label describing his own work, incorporating the content of Daniel 7:13-14 by association.

Clouds of heaven is a phrase and term of Judgment. Isaiah 19:1 states, “A prophecy against Egypt: See, the LORD rides on a swift cloud and is coming to Egypt.” From this imagery, the preterist accepts the phrase means judgment is coming and we also know when Christ appears the second time it will be to execute judgment. (Against the beast, not Jerusalem Rev 19)

In the Daniel 7:13 passage the son of man is not coming down to execute judgment but is ascending to the father and being presented before Him, where He is given authority and dominion and from Him judgment now comes. The context of Daniel 7 is of judgment for the Ancient of Days demonstrated in verse 9-10.

“As I looked, Thrones were placed,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames;
its wheels were burning fire.
A stream of fire issued
and came out from before him;
a thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him;
the court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened.

The Judgment described here is of the same wording as Revelation 20 in the Great White Throne when all people stand before him to give an account of things they had done. The coming judgment was executed in A.D. 70 by the Roman army of Titus. In the context of Mathew 24 the son of man is the messiah who they rejected and so in vindication, after he ascended and sat down at the right hand , Judgement comes from Him, Christ the exalted Lord who now sits on a throne and executes his own judgment. (John 5:27, And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man). The phrase “son of man coming on clouds” is never a reference in the gospels to his second coming but of the events of his ascension and exaltation in which he sends judgment. N T Wright echoes this same charge.

When Jesus speaks of “the son of man coming on the  clouds,” he is talking not about the second coming but, in line with the Daniel 7 text he is quoting, about his vindication after suffering.The “coming” is an upward, not a downward, movement. In context, the key texts mean that though Jesus is going to his death, he will be vindicated by events that will take place afterward.

Daniel Zacharias in his paper Old Greek Daniel 7:13-14 and Matthew’s Son of Man presents the case that the Old Greek completely supports the idea and from the first century church they understood this connection.

The evangelist has the Son of Man coming on (not with) the clouds, puts the angels in his charge, and places him on the glorious throne where he judges the nations. All of this coheres with Dan 7 as represented by the Old Greek.

N.T. Wright even adds,

The first thing to get clear is that, despite widespread opinion to the contrary, during his earthly ministry Jesus said nothing about his return. I have argued this position at length and in detail in my various books about Jesus.

The disciples barely understood his first message and purpose of his coming, that is to die, in which even Jesus spoke cryptically about it in ways they did not fully understand. A concept of a second coming would have been lost in their current understanding. They expected Christ to establish the throne of his father David in Israel, to rise, and overthrow the Roman empire as in days of old. It was the reason Judas sought to force Jesus hand, he thought he could force the circumstances where Jesus would have to raise up his followers to fight against the Roman armies, he believed the people would join in the rebellion as they all sided with their king just days before in his triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

Keeping to the context of Mathew 23:34-36[1] these events he is describing is all about the judgment that would be on that generation. With this judgement in the mind of Mathew, he begins with the Olivet[2] in chapter 24, speaking of the same judgment as he uses the same phrasing, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” This judgment then had to have taken place in that generation. When we examine history, we know Jerusalem was fully destroyed and the people scattered in A.D. 70. Mathew 24 was completely fulfilled in A.D. 70. Yet the ongoing ramifications of his death and resurrection and the theme of judgment still have a further completion that is tied to his Messianic role.

My simple point here is that the Daniel connection proves and establishes there is no promise of second coming found in the Olivet. If Jesus is quoting and from the context it is not a coming down but His coming to the father. This eliminates the necessity of a first century fulfillment of a second coming since there is no promise of his coming down in that generation.

 

[1] Therefore, I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

[2] The same discourse is found in Mark 13 and Luke 21 with differences in wording. The Olivet is not in the Gospel of John which lends to the idea John’s Gospel was written after 70 A.D., the Preterists argue the book of Revelation is his version of the Olivet.

 

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