Behold, He Is Coming with the Clouds
Topic: Judgment Passage: Revelation 1:7–1:8, Zechariah 12:10–12:14, Daniel 7:13–7:14
I was once a welder for Southwestern. We had a steady flow of projects on campus—hand rails, signs, gates, pipeline. But twice a year, those projects came to a screeching halt. As many hands as possible were necessary to prepare the campus for the ultimate welcome. Why? “The trustees are coming!” Their coming changed priorities and compelled a bit of urgency.
Perhaps you’ve worked in a restaurant before. Customers come and go. The managers seem calm from day to day. Then, without warning, coworkers are scrambling. Things are tense. Lists are checked twice/three times over. Repairs that weren’t priority before, suddenly must be done now. Why? The health inspector is coming. The health inspector’s coming compelled necessary changes, inspired diligence.
Or maybe you’re a child, old enough to stay home by yourself. Mom and dad run some errands. They give you a few things to accomplish before they return—wash the dishes, pick up the house, start some laundry. You know it’ll be a couple of hours, so you take your time, lay around. Thirty minutes later mom calls: “Coming home earlier than expected.” Zoom! You be cleaning the house so fast.
We encounter lots of “comings” that change the way we live, think, prioritize, invest, and that often compel new levels of urgency. With the book of Revelation, we encounter a coming that’s far greater. It’s one that everyone must face. There is one coming that matters most, that affects everything, that will end history, hold people accountable, and transform the world. It is the coming of Jesus.
Remember that verses 4-8 stand as one unit. It includes a rich greeting from God the Trinity. He then celebrates the past redeeming work of Christ—“he freed us from our sins by his blood.” He then turns to the present reign of Christ—“he made us a kingdom…to him be dominion forever.” Now, with verses 7-8, we’re seeing how that dominion will manifest itself fully and finally. He points to the future coming of Christ; and it ought to impact everything for you.
Just like before, we encounter several allusions to the Old Testament—primarily Daniel 7 and Zechariah 12 today. I’ll make a few comments about verse 8, but I’m going to save the Alpha and Omega title for a later message when Jesus refers to himself the same way. So, the bulk of our time will be spent on verse 7. But let’s read it within its context, starting with verse 4…
4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7 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. 8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
Let’s take this in four parts. Number one, Jesus coming. Verse 7 says, “Behold, he is coming with the clouds.” A few layers to notice here. One is related to the way God reveals himself in the Old Testament as the coming one. Psalm 96:13, “…all the trees of the forest [shall] sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth.” Isaiah 35:4, “Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance…He will come and save you.”
Whether it’s to save or judge at the end of time—God revealed himself as the coming one. So, it’s fitting that verse 4 and verse 8 identify God as “him who is and who was and who is to come.” But notice that sandwiched between the revelation of God’s name as “he who is to come” is “Behold, [Jesus] is coming…”[i] Why? Because we’re supposed to see God’s coming in Jesus’ coming. Jesus’ coming is God’s coming.
Now, to that John adds another layer. He describes Jesus’ coming with words from Daniel 7. We looked at Daniel 2 a while back. Daniel saw a great image—one of gold, silver, bronze, and iron/clay. That image represented four rebel kingdoms that eventually get shattered by the one stone-kingdom that would last forever. Christ’s kingdom would prevail. Daniel 7 picks up the same theme, only this time Daniel sees four beasts that represent the rebel kingdoms—a lion, a bear, a leopard, and then a fourth beast with iron teeth and ten horns, terrifying, dreadful, and exceedingly strong.
As the vision continues, though, Daniel also sees the Ancient of Days. The Lord reveals himself as a great King enthroned on his war chariot—a thousand thousands serve him. He is sovereign and sits to judge these rebel kingdoms. Then Daniel sees this in verses 13-14, “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. 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.” Just as Adam was supposed to have dominion over the beasts, we see here a new and better Son of Man whose dominion is forever.
The rest of the chapter interprets Daniel’s vision. The angel identifies the four great beasts as “four kings who shall arise out of the earth”—the last one being the worst and causing a long season of persecution for God’s people. But in the end, when God sits in judgment and establishes the Son of Man’s throne, “the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever and ever.” By applying this passage to Jesus, John identifies Jesus as Daniel’s “son of man.” Jesus is seated with the Ancient of Days. Jesus is the one who will replace all rebel kingdoms with God’s kingdom. Jesus will have dominion forever, and all peoples and nations will serve Jesus.
A question rises, though: when exactly is this coming of Jesus? It’s a good question because in Daniel 7, when “he comes with the clouds,” he’s presented to the Ancient of Days. It’s an enthronement scene. So, some Christians have said that Jesus’ coming in verse 7 is a heavenly event versus a coming to earth. However, Daniel 7:19-27 reveals an end-time situation where the saints of God enjoy victory in the exalted Son of Man’s earthly kingdom. According to Revelation 19-20, that earthly kingdom transpires with the return of Jesus. The heavenly enthronement manifests itself in an earthly defeat of the four beastly kingdoms. Also, the fact that every eye will witness Jesus’ coming—in the next part of verse 7—seems to exclude a strictly heavenly coming.
Also, in Revelation 14:14, John describes “one like a son of man” appearing with a cloud, and there it’s clearly speaking of Jesus’ return to initiate the final harvest for judgment. Also, Jesus uses Daniel 7:13 in Matthew 24:30-31 to describe events surrounding his second coming—events that are earthly, public, visible, and have universal effects. So, I take verse 7 to describe the second coming of Jesus.
Now, that shouldn’t dismiss the fact that God has already established Jesus’ throne. Nor should we forget that Jesus’ kingdom has already begun—verse 6, “he made us a kingdom.” It’s a question of emphasis; and I think the emphasis falls on Jesus’ return. Jesus’ heavenly reign will manifest itself on the earth. He will appear in glory to end his people’s sufferings. He will come to destroy the rebel kingdoms. He will destroy our persecutors. He will remove their dominion, as Daniel 7 says, and he will replace their kingdoms with his own kingdom, and all peoples will serve him.
Every Eye Beholding
Next, we see every eye beholding. “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him.” You won’t find the exact phrase “every eye” elsewhere in the Old Testament. But the theme is prevalent in Isaiah. Isaiah 40:5, “then the glory of Yahweh shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together…” Isaiah 52:8, “…for eye to eye they shall see the return of Yahweh to Zion.” Again Isaiah 52:10, “all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” Isaiah 66:18, “…the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues, and they shall see my glory.”
Jesus’ coming will cause these Old Testament hopes to materialize. In Jesus’ coming, every eye will witness the glory of God’s salvation and judgment. But notice how he includes a subgroup within the “every eye.” He says, “even those who pierced him.” Who’s he talking about? This is John’s Revelation—if we go back to John’s Gospel, to John 19:31-37, we learn that only one Roman soldier literally pierced Jesus’ side. But here John says, “those who pierced him,” in the plural. Who are the piercers?
One clue comes in Zechariah 12:10—which is the Old Testament context John alludes to here. It’s also the prophecy that John says gets fulfilled in John 19:37 when the soldier pierces Jesus—we’ll see how these fit together in a minute. But God says, “They will look on me, whom they have pierced.” In Zechariah 12:10 the referent is “the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem” who pierce God. Sinful Israel commits a sinful act against Yahweh. John 19 fits that prophecy quite well since the Roman soldiers act at the instigation of sinful Israel. Also, the immediate context in verse 7 identifies the piercers with “all the tribes of the earth.” Who are the piercers, then?
They are those people in every age who are hostile to the Lord and his Christ. Throughout Revelation, those who belong to the Beast’s kingdom are known for shedding the blood of God’s people.[ii] It seems consistent that the piercers who shed Jesus’ blood refers to all who participate in the works that characterize the Beast’s kingdom.[iii] “Even those who pierced him”—it’s a collective referent for all who oppose Christ in every age. [I’m grateful to Paul Hoskins for helping me see that.]
So, while John refers to both the redeemed and the rebellious community witnessing Jesus’ return (i.e., “every eye”), the enemies of Jesus seem to be the focus in this latter subgroup. Even they will see him...
All Tribes Mourning
When they do, John adds, “all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him.” That’s the third part of verse 7—all tribes mourning. Just like we observed with the piercers, John does the same with the mourners. He broadens the referent beyond sinful Israel to include “all the tribes of the earth.” In the Old Testament, that’s a very common universal referent. Sometimes it appears in contexts of blessing—like the Abrahamic covenant where God blesses all the tribes of the earth. Sometimes it appears in contexts of judgment—like with those who fail to worship God’s king in Zechariah 14:17. The question is what’s in view here? If it’s blessing, then the nature of the mourning would be repentance, godly sorrow. If it’s judgment, then the nature of the mourning is terror.
A growing number of folks understand the mourning to be that of repentance. “All the tribes of the earth” represent repentant nations who join themselves to the Lord in fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. What’s compelling about this view is the fact that Zechariah 12:10-14 anticipates God’s Spirit moving the people to heartfelt contrition over the Pierced One, over Jesus. By extending the referent beyond Israel, though, John envisions a time associated with Jesus’ coming when all peoples of the earth would join true Israel in repentance. It’s compelling. Richard Bauckham explains that view most thoroughly in his book The Climax of Prophecy.
But several factors lead me to favor the other view, that “all the tribes of the earth” represent the rebellious community who will mourn in dread at Jesus’ return in judgment. One factor is that verse 7 pictures Jesus’ second coming; and when expounded elsewhere in Revelation, the second coming enacts an immediate ingathering of the Lamb’s people,[iv] and an immediate judgment on the rebellious community with no further chance for repentance.[v] We’ve also seen that God’s everlasting kingdom would supplant all rebel kingdoms with the coming of Jesus.[vi] Viewing the mourning as deep regret and dread seems consistent with Jesus’ kingdom finally undoing their evil empires and leaving them exposed to his scrutiny and wrath (Rev 6:16-17).
One key objection to viewing this mourning negatively is that Zechariah’s prophecy clearly envisions the mourning as something positive. It’s the result of God renewing their spirit; so how can we say it’s a mourning with dread? Sometimes the end-time moment forces the apostles to use the Old Testament in an inverted way.[vii] You can also call it a reversed appropriation. I’ll give you a couple examples.
One of the best is 1 Corinthians 15:55. Paul quotes from Hosea 13:14, “O death, where is your sting?” In the original context, the prophet invites death to conquer Israel for their sin: “O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting?” In other words, “Come and get them. They deserve it.” But what happens when Paul quotes it? It’s no longer an invitation for death; it’s a taunt against death. “O death, where is your sting?” “Bring it on,” in other words, is the way Paul uses it. What changed? The end-time moment. Jesus’ final victory over death inverts the invitation into a taunt against death. It’s not that Paul contradicts God’s initial word of judgment. Rather, God’s judgment falls on Jesus in our place. So for believers, death has lost all power.
Ben mentioned another one a while back from Matthew 2:6. Micah 5:2 says, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel…” However, when Matthew cites the prophet’s words in the birth narrative of Jesus, he does so in an inverted manner that stresses the greatness of the moment: “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah…” What changed? The end-time moment. The Messiah, the world’s Savior, had come to this little, insignificant town. He was there and that changed everything.
I think something similar is going on in Revelation 1:7, but it’s also connected to the way John already used Zechariah 12:10 in his Gospel. Let me put it together for you like this—I also drew it for you (screen). John does see a time when God pours out his Spirit upon sinful Israel and the nations and causes their repentance.[viii] Jesus inaugurated that age when he was historically pierced; and the blood and water flowing from his side signified the outpouring of God’s cleansing work by the Spirit.[ix] When Jew and Gentile alike who receive God’s Spirit look upon the Pierced One rightly by faith with godly sorrow, God saves them and makes them his covenant people.[x] In that sense, John includes the positive sense of the mourning that’s expected in Zechariah 12:10-14.
However, the historical period in which Israel and the nations have opportunity to repent ends at Jesus’ second coming.[xi] At the return of Jesus, the period for the rebellious community to repent has ended. All who remain from Israel and the nations who did not find repentance will face judgment.[xii] These new circumstances force John to invert the type of mourning that Jesus’ second coming will cause among the rebellious.
I’ll say it a little differently. In John 19:37, there’s no need for an inverted use. John reflects on Zechariah 12 with respect to Jesus’ first coming. God’s presence in Jesus was revealed through his humble state: God became a man to suffer a cross for enemies. At the second coming, God’s presence in Jesus will be revealed through his glorious state: God, as a man, will conquer and judge all his remaining enemies. That makes all the difference. In sum, Jesus’ coming will not just be universal in scope—“every eye will see him.” It will also be awful in its effect—“all tribes will wail on account of him.” Everyone opposed to Jesus will mourn with great dread. The terrible day of destroying his enemies will have come, and they will find no escape.
The Amen Resounding
Lastly, we see the Amen resounding. The word, “Amen,” signals a strong affirmation. You could also translate it, “Let it be so!” In the New Testament, you will often find it at the end of a doxology. Like Romans 11:36, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”
The idea would be that as God’s words were read to the churches, the congregation would affirm with, “Amen!” John already led the church to affirm what Jesus’ past redeeming work began for God’s people and what Jesus’ present reign sustains. Now, the church must further affirm what Jesus’ future coming will end. Together, all the churches must affirm that God’s coming to judge will soon reach full expression in Jesus’ kingship on earth. In this way, you could say that verse 7 anticipates the main thrust of the entire book: God’s heavenly kingdom will soon come on earth in the personal arrival of Jesus. This we affirm; and for this we obediently wait.
How should Jesus’ coming impact you?
Okay, that’s the four parts of verse 7. Let’s talk now about how Jesus’ coming should impact us? What does his future coming mean for the present? For starters, you should look upon the Pierced One now by faith—the Pierced One being Jesus. As I mentioned before, John quotes from Zechariah 12:10 in his Gospel. The soldier pierces Jesus’ side. The blood and water flow. John 19:37 then says, “These things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled…‘They will look on him whom they have pierced.’” John also says he wrote these things so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you might have life in his name (John 20:31).
But when you set John’s Gospel beside Revelation 1:7, you start seeing a broader narrative. The time to look upon Jesus with mourning and godly sorrow and faith will eventually end. Jesus will return to close the present age and replace all rebel kingdoms with his own. At that time, his enemies will mourn with dread. They will wail in terror at the wrath of the Lamb. Are you an enemy of Jesus? Have you rejected his word to do your own thing? Look to Jesus now. See in his wounds that he died for you. He bled to cleanse you from your sins. If you look upon Jesus with faith now, God will pour out his Spirit on you and cleanse you from sin and grant you eternal life. Don’t wait to look upon the Pierced One. Look on Jesus now by faith, or you will look on him later with dread. John wants you to be like Thomas—you come to Jesus with your doubts, but it’s in the seeing of his redeeming wounds that you learn to say, “My Lord and my God!”
Also, join the church in confessing Jesus’ return. Across the ages, Christ’s true church has always confessed that Jesus will come again. Take the Apostles’ Creed, written 300 years after Jesus’ birth. Just after affirming Christ’s death and resurrection, it says, “He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.” It is crucial not to forget this.
When we speak about the gospel, we often limit our message to Christ’s death and resurrection. But the apostles also preached Christ’s return, and how that return would consummate the ages and raise the dead and bring the final judgment. Our Lord instituted a Supper; and in it we eat this bread and drink this cup to proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again. It’s a regular sign pointing forward. Do you eat and drink with expectation? When you talk to others about the Lord, how much is Jesus’ return included? When you pray, are you hoping with the apostles, “Maranatha! Lord, come! Father, bring your kingdom on earth as it is in heaven!” With verse 7, we too must sound our Amen about the return of Jesus.
But more than just a confession, Jesus’ coming should compel us to invest in his kingdom over building our own. As we saw in Daniel 7, Jesus will come to replace all rebel kingdoms with God’s eternal kingdom. Therefore, when it comes to our values, our priorities, our investments, the use of our time and money, how we use our home, how we educate our children, how we budget our money and steward our stuff, what we do at work and how we treat others—we need to ask, “How are these things strategically serving the one kingdom of Jesus that will last forever?”
Remember how I started? There are other “comings” that you encounter, that you anticipate in life; and those comings shape the way you live now. How much more should the rhythms of our life be shaped by the coming of Jesus, King of Kings!
Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 are fitting here: “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
There are only two responses to Jesus’ coming: wisdom or wickedness. Wisdom is faithfulness to Jesus throughout the days he is away. Wickedness uses Jesus’ delay to do what you want instead of what he’s given you to do. Let’s be sure that Jesus’ coming sobers us in the right ways and makes us wise, faithful.
How are you preparing to meet him? Morally speaking, are you conducting yourself in ways that Jesus will approve on the Last Day? Ethically, how are you spending your days at work? Colossians reminded us last week—in whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. The wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done… (Col 3:23-25). Those words shape how we work. Regardless of who else may be coming to approve, our utmost concern is Jesus’ approval. Will he find us faithful in all that we give our hands to?
God has also gifted each of you with various gifts and skills—how are you utilizing those gifts and skills to build Christ’s church? Are you like the ones in Matthew 25 who used their talents to increase the Master’s investment? Or, are you like the one who buried his talent in the ground and just waited around. Reflecting on that parable, D. A. Carson writes, “It is not enough for Jesus’ followers to “hang in there” and wait for the end. They must see themselves as servants…who improve what their Master entrusts to them. Failure to do so proves they cannot really be valued as disciples at all.”
Yes, different people will have different levels of ability, different amounts of resources, different types of family situations, different emotional capacities. The question more about how you’re using whatever you do have.
The things that you own—how are they strategically serving Christ’s kingdom? To what use are you putting them to advance Jesus’ cause? In what ways are you sharing them with others? When it comes to missions and evangelism, does Jesus’ coming put a level of urgency on getting the message out? Husbands, are you ready to meet Jesus and account for the ways you pursue his kingdom in loving your wife? For all of us, let’s give our lives to investing strategically in Jesus’ kingdom.
Finally, receive Jesus’ coming as your assurance of peace. This salutation began in verse 4 with “grace to you and peace.” We discussed how it comes from God the Trinity. What verse 7 adds is how God will ensure that his peace comes on earth and comes to his people. One thing that Daniel 7 and Zechariah 12 hold in common is that both come to the Lord’s people in the face of enemy oppression. But during the oppression, during the persecution, the Lord reassures his people that one day he would destroy their oppressors and bring them into a permanent kingdom of peace.
John writes here to Christians also facing enemy oppressors. The tribulation includes persecution. The kingdom of the Beast is drunk with the blood of the saints; and it’s happening now. Persecution awareness is often a blind spot in America. Nevertheless, a few people have gone to great lengths to research the persecution of Christians happening right now. Voice of the Martyrs, Open Doors, The Barnabas Fund over in the UK, the Pew Research Center, are just a few. But in terms of a detailed, book-length treatment of persecution, John Allen’s book, The Global War on Christians is a good resource—he is the senior Vatican analyst for CNN. And he concludes that “half of all martyrdoms in Christian history occurred in the twentieth century: “Fully half, or forty-five million, went to their deaths in the twentieth century…More Christians were killed because of their faith in the twentieth century than all previous centuries combined.”[xiii]
What will you hold on to when persecution comes for you? If you’re living in this, it’s easy to grow weary. It’s hard to keep loving your enemies. It’s heartbreaking to watch loved ones go missing overnight. What are the saints supposed to hold on to? The present reign and future coming of Jesus. He will come with the clouds and deal with the enemies of God’s people. He will deliver them from their oppressors and bring them into a kingdom of peace that will never end. Let us pray for that day to come soon.
[i] The primary context here is Daniel 7:13-14 in reference to the “son of man” figure. But the same cloud imagery regularly describes Yahweh’s theophanic presence (e.g., Exod 13:21-22; 40:34-38; Lev 16:2; 2 Sam 22:12; 1 Kgs 8:10-11; Ps 97:2 [LXX 96:2]; LXX Zech 2:17; Isa 19:1; Ezek 1:4; cf. Deut 33:26; Ps 18:9 [LXX 17:10; MT 18:10]).
[ii] Rev 11:7-10; 12:7; 16:6.
[iii] For this point, I am indebted to some personal correspondence with Paul Hoskins. See also his comments on Rev 1:7 in Hoskins, Revelation, 56.
[iv] Rev 14:4, 14-16; 19:14.
[v] Rev 6:16-17; 14:17-20; 19:15-21.
[vi] Rev 1:2; cf. Dan 2:28-29; 7; 10-12.
[vii] See Beale, Handbook, 92–93.
[viii] E.g., John 7:39; 14:26; 15:26; 16:7-14.
[ix] John 19:34; cf. 20:22-23. John’s use of Zech 12:10 just following the outpoured water and blood from Jesus’ pierced side in John 19:34 seems to evoke the wider context of Zech 13:1, wherein God opens a fountain for cleansing from sin. In John, it is the Spirit who cleanses from sin and gives enteral life by applying the benefits of Jesus’ death to his people.
[x] E.g., John 3:14-15 [cf. Num 21:9]; 6:40; 9:37-38; 12:44-45. The correct “look” is the look in faith. Some physically see Jesus, but by looking in unbelief, the persons prove to be blind (John 6:36; 9:39-41; 15:24).
[xi] That John envisions a limited time for repentance seems evident not only in his letters to the seven churches (e.g., Rev 2:5, 16, 21; 3:3, 19), but also in how those who side with the Beast fail to repent before the day of wrath finally arrives (Rev 9:20-21; 16:9, 11).
[xii] E.g., John 5:24, 27, 29; Rev 6:16-17; 14:7, 10; 19:15; cf. 1 John 4:17.
[xiii] Allen, The Global War, 33, cited in Cochran, Christians in the Crosshairs, 29.