The symbolism of the Son of man coming on the clouds and the meaning of kingdom

Tue, 12/10/2010 - 11:36

In the discussion prompted by my post on ‘The parables of delay and the question of dual fulfilment’ paulf argued that it’s impossible to resolve the tension in Jesus’ apocalyptic discourse between the early references to the destruction of Jerusalem and the later statement about the Son of man: ‘we know from history that the son of man did not come through the clouds and set up a kingdom.’ So either Jesus was wrong, which many have argued; or he was speaking about something that would happen in an entirely different time-frame, presumably at the end of history.

In attempting to address this objection Rich puts forward two arguments, one concerning the nature of Jesus’ language, which I more or less agree with, and one concerning the nature of the kingdom of God, which I do not agree with.

The sign of the Son of man

Rich is right to insist that the imagery of Matthew 24:30 was never meant (by Jesus, let’s suppose) to be understood as a literal account of a bodily descent through the clouds – not unless Jesus was a very poor interpreter of the Jewish scriptures.

The central motif derives from Daniel 7:13-14. It concerns the giving of kingdom, etc., to the symbolic figure in human form whom Daniel sees coming on the clouds of heaven. The interpretation of the vision by the angel (Dan. 7:23-27) makes it clear that this figure stands for the community of Jews who remain faithful to the covenant when they come under ferocious assault from a pagan ruler, who is identified from later chapters as the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes.

The vision in Daniel 7 speaks of a divine judgment on the pagan kingdom and its blasphemous ruler (7:11) and a vindication before the throne of God of the suffering saints of the Most High. The wider narrative also includes a subplot of Jewish apostasy and of judgment on the nation.

Jesus retells this story for his disciples because he believes that events that will unfold over the coming decades will be, at a political-religious level, analogous to the crisis provoked by Antiochus Epiphanes.

On the one hand, Israel will suffer at the hands of a foreign pagan aggressor, and many will choose a course of action – a broad road – that is bound to end in destruction.

On the other, Jesus has gathered around himself as the symbolic Son of man a community of ‘righteous’ followers who will endure much suffering for his sake and for the sake of the good news regarding the future of the people of God. This community will eventually be vindicated, not least by the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, for having chosen an alternative way of life and an alternative ‘temple’.

Not only Jesus but also those who share in his story of death and resurrection will receive or inherit the kingdom. As paulf says, the coming of the kingdom is essentially a future event, even if it may be anticipated in such present events as the healing miracles.

The kingdom of God

This is where I disagree with Rich. The ‘kingdom’ that is established – that is given to the Son of man – is not an invisible or internal thing in the manner of his reading of Luke 17:20-21. ‘Kingdom’ is fundamentally a matter of who reigns over the people of God – who exercises judgment over the people and defends them against their enemies? This two-part definition goes all the way back to the original demand for a king made to Samuel:

But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” (1 Sam. 8:19-20)

So the coming of the kingdom of God has to do with i) the judgment of the current generation of unrighteous Israel, and ii) the salvation and vindication of faithful Israel – the deliverance of the disciples, that is, from their enemies.

Jesus’ perspective is somewhat limited to the first horizon of the war against Rome – he is concerned about Jerusalem primarily (see Daniel Kirk’s recent comments on ‘Jerusalem & Judgment in Luke’), much less about the subsequent antagonism between the emerging churches and Greek-Roman paganism. This is why the imagery of the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven is so closely associated with the war.

The gathering of the elect (eg. Matt. 24:31) refers, I think, again symbolically, to the inclusion of the disciples in Jesus’ own vindication as the Son of man. He ‘comes’ in two respects, therefore: as the one who himself receives kingdom and authority from the throne of God following his own suffering, and as the one who ensures the vindication of his persecuted disciples.

Paul’s perspective, I would argue, is broader. He uses the same apocalyptic narrative but extends it to make sense of the conflict between the churches and, supremely, the pagan opponent who, like Antiochus Epiphanes, will seek to suppress worship of the God of Israel (eg. 2 Thess. 2:1-4). The kingdom that is given to Jesus is an authority over the powers of the pagan world – the name which is above every name. In concrete, visible historical terms it finds fulfilment in the conversion of the pagan empire to Christianity.

Comments

Andrew,

Concerning the “coming on the clouds”, and other comic de-creation language, I was thinking of passages such as the ones listed below.

First, the passage containing Jesus’ words where this type of language was employed.

Matthew 24:29-3129 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, 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. 31 And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

Prophesying the fall of Babylon to the Medes in 539 B.C Isaiah said:

Isa 13:9-109 Behold, the day of the LORD comes,Cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger,To lay the land desolate; And He will destroy its sinners from it.10 For the stars of heaven and their constellationsWill not give their light;The sun will be darkened in its going forth,And the moon will not cause its light to shine.

Isaiah also prophesied the fall of Edom using similar language:

Isa 34:44 All the host of heaven shall be dissolved,And the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll;All their host shall fall downAs the leaf falls from the vine,And as fruit falling from a fig tree.

Also in Amos where he prophesied the doom of Samaria (722 B.C.) he stated:

Amos 8:99 “ And it shall come to pass in that day,” says the Lord GOD, “ That I will make the sun go down at noon,And I will darken the earth in broad daylight;

Again, the destruction of Egypt by Ezekiel

Ezek. 32:7-87 When I put out your light, I will cover the heavens, and make its stars dark;I will cover the sun with a cloud,And the moon shall not give her light 8 All the bright lights of the heavens I will make dark over you,And bring darkness upon your land,’ Says the Lord GOD.

The Jews understood this type of language.  No Jew would attach physical aspects the way people do today.  They would ascribe physical events that mark this type of language, such as the destruction of Jerusalem, but not the literal destruction of the sun or moon.  For the Jew, they understood references to the sun, moon, and stars as references to earthly authorities and governors.  The application of Jesus’ words is in reference to the ruling Jewish leaders and its system (the Old Covenant).

Many try to apply this to pagan authorities, but the context is Israel.  The phrase, “then all the tribes of the earth will mourn”, is not rendered correctly.  It should say, “then all the tribes of the land will mourn”, as in all the tribes of land of Israel.  Same goes for Rev 1:7, “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth [land] will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.”  Both texts speak to the tribes of Israel.  Not the nations of the “world”.

Anyway, much more could be said concerning this, but a book(s) could be produced (and has already) to address it thoroughly.  See Max King’s books Spirit of Prophecy and The Cross and the Parousia of Christ, David Chilton’s books, Paradise Restored and Days of Vengeance.

I would also like to comment more on the Kingdom, but will have to do it later when I have more time.  Based on your words concerning my position, I don’t think I communicated clearly how I understand it.  I actually agree with much of what you stated.

Hello Brother Rich,

I thank you for opening my eyes that much more. Father God has been showing me signs while reading HIS word. I never believed in a “rapture” and I questioned whether Rev. was symolic or not. This is how I came to read your comment. It was divine I am sure of it. It confirmed so much for me. I was seeking answers to “coming in the clouds” which was actually spoken to me by the still small voice.

Hence, my finding you. The scriptures you used were spot on. Please tell me your thoughts on “the kingdom.”

Tell me your thoughts please on what you see coming next. Thank you so much. You have helped to confirm so much for me.

Blessings,

Cassie

Andrew,

some quick thoughts on your section, "The Sign of the Son of Man".

"The central motif derives from Daniel 7:13-14. It concerns the giving of kingdom, etc., to the symbolic figure in human form whom Daniel sees coming on the clouds of heaven. The interpretation of the vision by the angel (Dan. 7:23-27) makes it clear that this figure stands for the community of Jews who remain faithful to the covenant when they come under ferocious assault from a pagan ruler, who is identified from later chapters as the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes."

Disagree.  The prophecy references the fourth beast, which is Rome.  The little horn (Paul's "man of sin", and Rev's "land beast") is fleshly OC Israel who rises up to persecute the Church.  It is this beast that is destroyed (Dan 7:11) by the "coming of the son of man" in the clouds of heaven (Christ coming in judgement against Israel, AD70).  The other beasts had their dominion taken away, but their lives prolonged.  This represents Rome who no longer can rule over God's Kingdom ("time of the Gentiles" will end (Lk 21:24)), which was taken away from fleshly Israel and given to the Church (Matt 21:43) and becomes a Spiritual Kingdom in the sense that it has no borders that any man/nation can control or rule over, just as it does now.  The reference to Rome being allowed to live for a time refers to the nation living for another couple hundred years before it finally fell.

"The vision in Daniel 7 speaks of a divine judgment on the pagan kingdom and its blasphemous ruler (7:11) and a vindication before the throne of God of the suffering saints of the Most High. The wider narrative also includes a subplot of Jewish apostasy and of judgment on the nation."

Disagree.  Daniel 7 speaks of the divine judgment on fleshly Israel (little horn).  It is the Church, the true Israel, who is vindicated from fleshly Israel.

"Jesus retells this story for his disciples because he believes that events that will unfold over the coming decades will be, at a political-religious level, analogous to the crisis provoked by Antiochus Epiphanes"

Disagree.  Jesus "tells" the story for his disciples, and for the Church, because he knows His bride will be vindicated in AD70 when He returns in His generation (Mat. 24:34) to judge fleshly Israel.  Rome's involvement (sea beast) will only be as a tool that God's uses to judge Israel.

"Jesus has gathered around himself as the symbolic Son of man a community of ‘righteous’ followers who will endure much suffering for his sake and for the sake of the good news regarding the future of the people of God. This community will eventually be vindicated, not least by the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, for having chosen an alternative way of life and an alternative ‘temple’."

Agreed.

"Not only Jesus but also those who share in his story of death and resurrection will receive or inherit the kingdom. As paulf says, the coming of the kingdom is essentially a future event"

Agreed.  Jesus ascended to sit at the right hand of God to rule while he was defeating His enemies (and building "Father's house"/Church), the last being "the death" (1 Cor. 15:24-26).  This was Israel’s 40 year wilderness journey (30-70 AD). At the “end” in AD 70 the Kingdom was established completely.  Once it was completed and all His enemies were defeated, Christ handed it over to God the Father (1 Cor. 15:24).

 

I was under the impression that the whole imagery of a deity subservient to God riding the clouds and descending to rule earth was borrowed from wider Canaanite beliefs and practices, particularly the Baal cycle, since it was a widespread metaphor that the Jews and their neighbours would have been familiar with.

See, for example: http://www.logos.com/ugaritic

The persistent folk belief that Jews could worship God through an intermediary deity — which explains all their lapses into Baal worship — may also have helped establish Jesus' legitimacy as a divine intermediary for reaching God.

Paul, that may be right in general terms but I don’t think it is true for the symbolism of Daniel 7. The ‘Son of man’ is not a divine figure – any more than the four beasts described in the first part of the chapter are divine. These are all symbolic representations of peoples – destructive empires, on the one hand; the righteous saints of the Most High on the other.

By claiming to be the Son of man Jesus is not claiming to be God; he is claiming to embody that part of Israel that will eventually be vindicated for having taken a path of faithful suffering.

Rich, I find the suggestion that the aggressor represented by the ‘little horn’ on the head of the fourth beast is fleshly Israel quite extraordinary. It seems to me that you are telling the right sort of story here about the historical interaction between Israel, Rome and the emerging church, but your interpretation of the apocalyptic symbolism seems muddled.

The little horn (Paul’s “man of sin”, and Rev’s “land beast”) is fleshly OC Israel who rises up to persecute the Church.

In Daniel’s vision the ‘little horn’ is successor to a line of kings from the oppressive kingdom represented by fourth beast, which for Daniel was a Hellenistic empire and for later Jews Rome. He is described in language quite typical of Jewish denunciations pagan rulers who blasphemously claim divine honours. His career in Daniel 7-12 as ‘king of the north’ conforms to that of Antiochus Epiphanes. He threatens the covenant not because he is corrupt Israel but because he seduces many Jesus into abandoning true worship of YHWH (Dan. 11:32).

It is this beast that is destroyed (Dan 7:11) by the “coming of the son of man” in the clouds of heaven (Christ coming in judgement against Israel, AD70).

The beast is not not destroyed by the coming of the Son of man: the court is set up, the beast and the little horn are destroyed, and then the kingdom is given to the Son of man figure. Also the fourth beast is not allowed to live for a while: it is the first three beasts whose ‘lives were prolonged for a season and a time’.

But the important point to note is that the blasphemous aggressor does not feature in Jesus’ discourse (except perhaps indirectly in the reference to the ‘abomination of desolation’) because his focus is on the vindication of himself and of his followers over against lawless Israel. The ‘abomination of desolation’, incidentally, is set up in the temple by the armies of the king of north (Dan. 11:29-31). Notice also here that this king who is so hostile towards the Jews is also opposed by the Kittim – that is, by the Romans – which makes it clear that ‘Daniel’ did not intend the fourth beast to be understood as Rome.

It is only when we get to Paul that a lawless, anti-Christ type figure becomes prominent, becomes part of the apocalyptic narrative, because now the church is having to deal not only with Jewish but also with pagan antagonism.

Andrew, do you take the discourse in Matthew 24 to be an authentic saying of Jesus?

It rather depends on what you mean by an ‘authentic saying’. I think the discourse is entirely credible as the expression of a prophetic outlook in the context in which purports to have been given – Jesus wasn’t the only person to predict the destruction of Jerusalem. It is broadly coherent with the narrative that emerges in the synoptics. It is historically plausible. It doesn’t particularly make sense as an invention of the early church. But how closely the discourse as we have it corresponds to anything Jesus might actually have said, we’ve no way really of knowing. The most we can really go by is the general coherence of the passage with its narrative and historical context.

The church has never existed except in the mind of the evil translators and the evil princes of the evil gentile church where gentiles are made to be christians.

27 words in the NT are the word for inviting and the translators made 117 times one of those words. The word in the greek letter text is klee the one invited see John 2 when Jesus was invited to the wedding of Cana. Same word from which we get the evil Chruch.In Matthew 16:18 where the word church is first used it is the word ekkleesian being the ones invited out of the gentiles where they had been scattered by the Father following the divorce in Jeremiah 3. The translators change a her to an it and called it the church. Jesus was speaking of his wife he came to rescue of the evil man line of Gentiles that God rejected before the foundation of the earth. No church is seen in heaven and the new Covenant was only to the house of Israel and the house of Judah Heb 8:8

See my web pages for much more details on this and more

www.myprivatelibrary.org

www.myprivatelib.com

Gerald Collins

Jesus was never son of man. In the beginning at the time of Adam there existed a line of men called man in the Hebrew text it is the word Aish. When Adam was created the man line had been here for millions of years. When God said to God now let us make Adam in our image that statement implies that there must have been another image of some kind and it was the seed of Satan we see referenced in Gen 6, there was the seed of woman to come later. In the Hebrew text wrongly translated at man for the expression Son of Adam. In Jeremiah 49 the writer used two different terms concerning what took place at Sodom and Gomorrah. That man nor the seed of Adam were never to dwell on the land where the cities had been destroyed, The expression Son of Adam is used in Ezekiel wrongly translated as son of man.

The Hebrews of Jesus day were familiar with the expression Son of Adam that is one of the many reason Jesus used the expression for he was the son of Adam the son of God in Luke 3 Jesus was never a man of the evil man line of Satan. The translators evil as they were converted Jesus to Son of man. In Matthew 1:21 when the angel talked to Joseph in dream he said that he was going to save the adams and the adams were the people of him. All of that was wrongly translators evil as they were are of the evil man line that reduced Jesus to being Just a Man of the evil man line of Satan from the beginning.

See my web pages for more details about this and more at;

www.myprivatelibrary.org

www.myprivatelib.com

Thank you

Gerald Collins

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