Our Meeting in the Clouds
By Jonathan C. Brentner
Clouds fascinate me more and more as I grow older, but I am not sure any correlation exists with age. Perhaps the reason for my growing interest in clouds lies elsewhere.
When cloud formations catch my eye, I often think of the time we will meet Jesus in the air in the midst of those clouds. One day during the past week the cloud formations took me in a different direction. They brought to mind Jesus ascension.
When Jesus returned to the Father, the text simply says “he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). He departed from His disciples will little fanfare; Jesus simply ascended upward as the disciples watched in amazement even after a cloud hid Him from their sight.
The “two men,” undoubtedly angels, then said this to Jesus’ followers, “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 1:12). Notice the angel’s promise that Jesus would come again “in the same way.”
What return of Jesus did the angels have in mind that would be similar to His ascension?
Could it be the Second Coming?
Many pastors today no longer believe in the rapture or they combine it with the second coming, Could the angels be referring to Jesus’ return to earth as these teachers would have us believe? It seems highly unlikely to me the angels had Jesus’ second coming in mind.
In Matthew 24:29-30, Jesus described His second coming this way, “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.”
The second coming will be spectacular with signs in the heavens and people throughout the world will not only see it, but also mourn. Jesus’ ascension, however, was rather tame compared to the biblical descriptions of His second coming. Apart from a cloud hiding Jesus as He rose upward, no other signs appeared in the sky. Rather than a public display of His glory, only a few witnessed His quiet return to the Father.
In Revelation 19:11-16, John gives us another picture of Jesus’ return to earth. The apostle describes Jesus as a mighty warrior riding on a white horse with “the armies of heaven arrayed in fine linen, white and pure…following him on white horses” (v. 14).
When Jesus returns to earth, the world will see a victorious conqueror returning to claim His inheritance. He will ride a horse across the sky with a vast array of saints behind Him, also on white horses.
These pictures of the second coming do not in any way resemble the manner of Jesus’ ascension. No, I do not believe the angels could have been referring to Jesus’ return to earth. It must be something else.
Is it the Rapture?
During the rapture, we ascend into the clouds to meet Jesus. Yes there is some fanfare with the “voice of an archangel and with the sound of the trumpet of God” (1 Thess. 4:16). And yes, the world will feel the impact of the rapture with the disappearance of so many people. However, like the ascension Jesus will be hidden from the world while we meet Him in the air, in the clouds (1 Thess. 4:17).
The rapture and ascension also resemble each other in the destination of each. In Acts 1, Jesus is returning to His Father in heaven. John 14:2-3 tells us that when Jesus comes for His followers, He will us them to His “Father’s house.”
Like the ascension, only those in Christ will participate in the rapture. It is an event just for His disciples, although our number has greatly increased since Acts 1.
Jesus mentions clouds in reference to His second coming in Matthew 26:64, but there He refers to His “coming on the clouds of heaven” rather than the clouds hiding Him sight. We know from other passages that His return to earth will be visible to everyone, glorious, accompanied by great signs in the heavens, and He will be riding on a white horse (and so will we).
Between the two events, the rapture resembles the ascension much more than the second coming.
The good news for us is that when Jesus comes for us, we will be heaven bound.
The event that we today refer to as the rapture is for those of us in Christ. Like the ascension, this event will only benefit those of us who know the Lord as our Savior; we will meet Him in the air and go back with Him to His Father’s house so that where He is, we “may be also” (John 14:3).
The biblical differences between Jesus’ return for His church and the second coming tell us they cannot be the same event as many today assume. Many significant differences exist between the two, which I detail in another post on this blog.
The wickedness and violence in our world focus our attention downward. The clouds remind us that this life is not all we have. They call us to look upward and remind us of our soon meeting with Jesus in the air in the midst of the clouds.
As I look out my window right now, I do not see a single cloud in the sky. They will return; they always do. I also know Jesus will keep His word and someday, hopefully soon, take us to His Father’s house in heaven just as He promised.
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