Much of the confusion surrounding the topic of eschatology today, and specifically the concept of the Parousia or “Jesus’ arrival”, is due to a fundamental misunderstanding among most modern Christians. It is a misguided answer to the question: exactly WHAT IS a ‘COMING OF GOD’ according to THE BIBLE? If you are willing to take another look at the Old Testament understanding of this concept, you may be surprised at what you find – and what you DON’T find there. This is important to step back and reconsider because Jesus used Old Testament Jewish ideas to communicate with his Jewish audience. What they heard him say was filtered through what they knew of God from the Old Testament. This is not how most modern Christians understand Jesus today when they pick up a New Testament cold and begin reading it. Most of us today have no idea what a ‘coming of God’ was according to the Old Testament. But we should. Understanding this aright will change the posture of our entire faith.
We all have our own ideas about what a ‘Coming of God’ is, or should be, depending on the kind of eschatological view we were taught to ‘see’ in the Bible. But what does the Bible say a ‘coming of God’ is? Is it a body coming out of the sky? Or is it a demonstration of God’s power in both the spiritual and the visible realms? If we look first to the Old Testament and compare Scripture with Scripture to find what this concept means, then Jesus’ words about His coming or, as He calls it, His Parousia, meaning arrival – like when a king arrives into his Kingdom – become more clear. In fact, Jesus comes out as a true prophet who arrived right on time to his first century saints – just when he said he would (Mt 24:34). And, although Jesus might be suggesting that our futurist paradigm change, isn’t that what we read the Bible to find out - what Jesus said on his own terms – not what we want to read into his words?
What is a “Coming of God” in the Bible? In the Old Testament, a ‘Coming of God’ had many forms; a voice in the Garden, a burning bush or a pillar of fire. A ‘coming of God’ in judgment was usually when God used the means of an enemy army to discipline a city and it’s inhabitants. God’s presence was recognized in that enemy army because He had sent a prophet to warn of the event beforehand. SO the pattern looked like this:
1. A Prophet uses apocalyptic language to Tell people that ‘God is coming‘ to change the ‘heaven and earth’ of their society ->
2. The Prophet tells people to repent and turn to God->
3. the People don’t turn to God ->
4. an Enemy army comes. and people “see” god. meaning, they recognize that God visited them in judgment ->
5. God rearranges and purifies the ‘heaven and earth’ of the political and religious order of their society
Like Father, like Son: This is how God came in the Old Testament, and this is how Jesus was prophesied to come “in the glory of the Father” in the New Testament. In 70AD, that is exactly what happened. The presence of God, in the form of Roman armies trampled the city of Jerusalem for 42 months, or 3 1/2 years – just as prophesied. Afterwards, even the Jewish historian, Josephus, recognized that thisÂ as a Divine intervention – a Coming of God – breaking into and changing history forever.
But Different? The main difference between God’s comings in the Old Testament and Jesus’ Parousia or “presence” was that Jesus’ coming would be the climax of comings of God in history. His coming would consummate the New Covenant age or the marriage to the New Covenant bride, God’s Kingdom of people on earth. Jesus’ Parousia would simultaneously cause the Heaven and Earth of the Old [Covenant], the way that became obsolete, to finally pass away with a roar. It would give way to the dawning of the New Covenant age, the new Kingdom and people described as the Heaven and Earth of the New [Covenant]. Jesus’ glorious arrival would be INTO his New KingdomÂ – and that New Kingdom is US! Jesus arrived to give life to his own body on earth – the body of Christ.
PURPOSE: If the purpose of God’s coming wasn’t to physically renew the earth into a utopian state in an instant, then what was the purpose of God coming? It was to consummate the marriage relationship begun, the New Covenant relationship, with the New ‘Israel of God’ in Christ. Historically, marriage has had the purpose of producing legally recognized descendants who could be designated as heirs to a father’s land or Kingdom. Such is the case with God, his bride and his children. God came and consummated a New Covenant world, making a new relationship with his bride, the New Humanity, so that they could begin producing spiritual children, heirs with rights to all the promises and benefits as God’s spiritual Kingdom. This consummation has nothing to do with the end of the material world, or the beginning of a utopian earth. It is citizenship in a spiritual reality that we can live in now, amidst our material world. It is a Kingdom that you can opt into and become a citizen of and an heir of at any time. It is not that God isn’t changing and powerfully transforming this world toward His own victorious rule ofÂ justice, mercy, hope and glory. No, its that these changes are breaking into the world THROUGH us, as we live out our lives seeking to be a benefit and blessing to all the world, opening ourselves to the very real and powerful presence of God. He is coming into this world THROUGH us, right now, not coming in one earth-ending future installation TO US.
To End a Covenant World: So let’s look at the pattern in the text again. There were many “Coming of God” events prophesied in the Old Testament, complete with earth-ending and cloud coming apocalyptic language signifying great change. Was this language describing the end of the physical world, or the end of a society’s order – and the end of THEIR world? The Bible and history both confirm that this apocalyptic language was consistently describing the end of political and religious worlds or societies like Greece, Edom, Babylon, Egypt and Israel, as you can see from the Scriptures below.
A Coming of God was never literally God, or a ‘body’, coming out of the ‘sky’. Although the cloud-coming language describing it still causes many modern ears to hear it that way, a person at all familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures would have heard Jesus’ words describing His coming and recognized that He was quoting the Old Testament descriptions of past comings of God from Isaiah and Ezekiel. Thus, they would have reason to hear Jesus’ words in the same way – as a poetic and apocalyptic way of describing God’s end of Israel’s Old Covenantal world through the use of an enemy army. Jesus was NOT as describing the end of the material world – not in his future, nor in ours.
Jesus, a prophet in the line of Old Testament Hebrew prophets, predicted a ‘cloud-coming’ judgment on Jerusalem in his generation. Jesus was not predicting the end of the world, time or history! Scripture never mentions the end of these. Only one’s presuppositions cause them to think the Bible talks about the end of the material world. But he doesn’t. Jesus simply quotes the Old Testament and follows the same Old Testament pattern set by many before him, in a way HIS first century Jewish audience would understand. Jesus was predicting great covenantal change, as signified by His presence in the coming of the Roman armies to destroy Jerusalem in 70 AD.
‘Comings of God’ in History
As we will see the cloud comings of God in history all follow a similar pattern of nature and timing. The NATURE of the trumpets, clouds, darkening of the constellations, the burning up of the heavens and shaking of the earth’s foundations are all ways of describing God coming with ARMIES in judgment. The TIMING of these ‘Day of the Lord’ judgment events is well within one generation of when the prophet spoke the words of warning. Again, this all exactly fits the nature and timing of Jesus’ teaching about his coming to judge Jerusalem and the fulfillment of this in the events surrounding 70AD.
God Comes to End Saul’s Kingdom – 1000 BC
Then the earth shook and quaked, the foundations of heaven were trembling and were shaken, because He was angry. Smoke went up out of His nostrils, fire from His mouth devoured; coals were kindled by it. He bowed the heavens also, and ** HE CAME DOWN ** with thick darkness [on the earth] under His feet. And He rode on a cherub and flew; And ** HE APPEARED ** on the wings of the wind. And He made darkness canopies around Him, a mass of waters, thick clouds of the sky. From the brightness before Him coals of fire were kindled. The LORD thundered from heaven, and the Most High uttered His voice. And He sent out arrows, and scattered them, Lightning, and routed them. Then the channels of the sea appeared, the foundations of the world were laid bare by the rebuke of the LORD, at the blast of the breath of His nostrils. (2 Sam 22:8-16)
Notice the descriptions, God CAME DOWN and God APPEARED. Did he visibly appear? God is Spirit and later Scriptures say that no one has seen God. So we have no reason to believe that these ‘comings of God’ were visible or bodily. None the less, they were very REAL and PERCEPTIBLE, for those who had “eyes to see” and minds to perceive the spiritual significance of God’s involvement. Notice also that the ‘shaking of earth and heaven’ were symbolic ways of describing the decline of a nation. Likewise, God says, regarding the way he will shake the the Old Covenant and Israel, symbolically described as ‘heaven and earth’ in 70AD, Hebrews 12:26-28 “Whose voice then shook the earth: but now He hath promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.’ And this word, …symbolizes the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken…”
God Comes in a Cloud Against Ancient Egypt – 700s BC
Behold, YAHWEH rides on a swift cloud, and COMES TO Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall tremble at his PRESENCE; and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it. I will stir up the Egyptians against the Egyptians (Isaiah 19:1-2)
Notice that God’s COMING to Egypt is described as sending the Egyptians to fight a war. The Egyptians are acting as God’s instrument, doing His will, in this prophesied war.
God Comes to Judge Nineveh – 600s BC
The LORD takes vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies…IN whirlwind and storm is His way, and clouds are the dust beneath His feet. He rebukes the sea and makes it dry; He dries up all the rivers. Bashan and Carmel wither; The blossoms of Lebanon wither. Mountains quake because of Him and the hills dissolve; Indeed the EARTH is upheaved by ** His PRESENCE**, the WORLD and all the inhabitants in it. (Nahum 1:2-5)
In this cloud-coming judgment God’s presence is prophesied to destroy the world. But we know from the context and from history that He means the world of Nineveh – not the whole world.Â
God Comes to Judge Egypt in the Time of Nebuchadnezzar – 500s BC
The day is near, even the day of the LORD is near; It will be a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations. A sword will come upon Egypt, and anguish will be in Ethiopia; When the slain fall in Egypt…And they will know that I am the LORD, when I set a fire in Egypt…I will also make the hordes of Egypt cease by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. He and his people with him, the most ruthless of the nations, will be brought in to destroy the land; and they will draw their swords against Egypt and fill the land with the slain. (Ezekiel 30:3-4,8, 10-11)
Notice the “Day of the Lord” mentioned here is a local judgment or war on Egypt. God says the acts of Nebuchadnezzar are really from Him and He intends to make His presence in that war known. The army is used as an instrument of judgment in God’s hand to judge Egypt. Just as the Roman army was used to judge Jerusalem.
God Comes to Judge Edom in the Time of Nebuchadnezzar – 500s BC
Yahweh is enraged against all the nations, and angry with all their armies. He has utterly destroyed them. He has given them over for slaughter. Their slain will also be cast out, and the stench of their dead bodies will come up; and the mountains will melt in their blood. All of the host of heaven will be dissolved. The heavens will be rolled up like a scroll, and all its armies will fade away, as a leaf fades from off a vine or a fig tree. For my sword shall be bathed in heaven. Behold, it will come down on Edom, and on the people of my curse, for judgment. Yahweh’s sword is filled with blood. It is covered with fat, with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams; for Yahweh has a sacrifice in Bozrah, And a great slaughter in the land of Edom…For Yahweh has a day of vengeance, a year of recompense for the cause of Zion. Its streams will be turned into pitch, its dust into sulfur, And its land will become burning pitch. It won’t be quenched night nor day. Its smoke will go up forever. From generation to generation, it will lie waste. No one will pass through it forever and ever. (Isaiah 34: 2-6, 8-10)
Notice that Jesus quotes from this passage in Isaiah when he prophesies the Destruction of Jerusalem to His disciples in the Olivet Discourse (Mt 24, Mk 13, Lk 21). Isaiah says that the whole host of heaven will be destroyed, the very sky will be rolled up like a scroll and God’s sword will be bathed with blood and in the sky…this is cosmic and universal sounding language to describe local events with spiritual implications.Â
God Comes to Judge Israel at the Time of the Babylonian Exile – 500s BC
As I live, says the Lord Yahweh, surely with a mighty hand… I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there will I enter into judgment with you FACE TO FACE Hear the word of Yahweh: Thus says the Lord Yahweh, Behold, I will kindle a fire in you, and it shall devour every green tree in you, and every dry tree: the flaming flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from the south to the north shall be burnt thereby. All flesh shall see that I, Yahweh, have kindled it…Thus says Yahweh: Behold, I am against you, and will draw forth my sword out of its sheath, and will cut off from you the righteous and the wicked. Seeing then that I will cut off from you the righteous and the wicked, therefore shall my sword go forth out of its sheath against all flesh from the south to the north: and all flesh shall know that I, Yahweh, have drawn forth my sword out of its sheath (Ezek 20:33-35,47-48; 21:3-5)
“Behold, HE goes up like CLOUDS And his chariots like the whirlwind; His horses are swifter than eagles. Woe to us, for we are ruined! Wash your heart from evil, O Jerusalem, That you may be saved…I looked on the earth, and behold, it was formless and void; And to the heavens, and they had no light. I looked on the mountains, and behold, they were quaking, And all the hills moved to and fro. I looked, and behold, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens had fled. I looked, and behold, the fruitful land was a wilderness, And all its cities were pulled down Before the LORD, before His fierce anger. For thus says the LORD, The whole land shall be a desolation, Yet I will not execute a complete destruction. For this the earth shall mourn and the heavens above be dark, because I have spoken, I have purposed, And I will not change My mind, nor will I turn from it. At the sound of the horseman and bowman every city flees; They go into the thickets and climb among the rocks; Every city is forsaken, And no man dwells in them. And you, O desolate one, what will you do?” (Jeremiah 4:13-14, 23-30)
God Comes To Judge Ancient Babylon Using the Medes – 500s BC
Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty! Therefore all hands will be feeble, and every human heart will melt, and they will be dismayed. Pangs and agony will seize them; they will be in anguish like a woman in labor. They will look aghast at one another; their faces will be aflame. See, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the earth a desolation, and to destroy its sinners from it.
For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light. I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity…Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place, at the wrath of the LORD of hosts in the day of his fierce anger. Like a hunted gazelle, or like sheep with no one to gather them, all will turn to their own people, and all will flee to their own lands. Whoever is found will be thrust through, and whoever is caught will fall by the sword. Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be plundered, and their wives ravished. See, I am stirring up the Medes against them, who have no regard for silver and do not delight in gold. Their bows will slaughter the young men; they will have no mercy on the fruit of the womb; their eyes will not pity children. And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the splendor and pride of the Chaldeans, will be like Sodom and Gomorrah when GOD OVERTHREW THEM (Isaiah 13:6-11, 13,15-19)
Is this verse saying that the earth was blasted with asteroids and falling stars? Were the sun, moon and stars all destroyed so that they wouldn’t shine anymore? Did the earth come out of its usual orbit and shake? No. This is apocalyptic and symbolic language describing the shaking of the political powers of a nation. Specifically, the ramifications of the Medes on the social, political and religious order of Babylon. The ‘heaven and earth’ or ‘sun, moon and stars’ language here refers to the shaking political order of the nation itself, just like the symbols you see on a nation’s flag today – a red sun for Japan, an earth for Brazil, the crescent moon and star for Islam, the 50 stars for the States of America. All universally recognized national, political and religious symbols. This same use of symbols in language goes back to Biblical times.
God Comes During the Maccabean Period
For I have bent Judah for me, I have filled the bow with Ephraim; and I will stir up your sons, Zion, against your sons, Greece, and will make you as the sword of a mighty man. Yahweh shall be seen over them, and his arrow shall go forth as the lightning; and the Lord Yahweh will blow the trumpet, and will go with whirlwinds of the south. Yahweh of Hosts will defend them; and they shall devour, and shall tread down the sling-stones; and they shall drink, and make a noise as through wine; and they shall be filled like bowls, like the corners of the altar. Yahweh their God will save them in that day (Zechariah 9:13-16)
God Comes to Judge Jerusalem at AD 70
- “When therefore the Lord of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those farmers”? They told him, “He will miserably destroy those miserable men, and will lease out the vineyard to other farmers, who will give him the fruit in its season.” Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, the same was made the head cornerstone. This was from the Lord. It is marvelous in our eyes?’ Therefore I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and will be given to a nation bringing forth its fruit. He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but on whoever it will fall, it will scatter him as dust.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they knew that He spoke about THEM. (Matthew 21:40-45)
- 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. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the land will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Matthew 24:29-30)
NOTICE THAT JESUS IS QUOTING FROM ISAIAH HERE. HE IS SPEAKING OF COVENANTAL CHANGES AND REALITIES. HE IS NOT SAYING THE PLANET WILL BE SHAKEN. HE IS SAYING THAT THE POWERS OF THE OLD COVENANT, ISRAEL AND THE WAY OF BEING GOD’S PEOPLE THROUGH THE LAW OF MOSES WILL BE SHAKEN. THEY WILL GIVE WAY TO A NEW WAY OF BEING GODS PEOPLE THROUGH CHRIST.
- I saw, and behold a white cloud; and upon the cloud one sitting like to the Son of man, having on his head a crown of gold, and in his hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the temple crying with a loud voice to him that sat upon the cloud: Thrust in thy sickle, and reap, because the hour has come to reap: for the harvest of the land is ripe…And the press was trodden without the city (Revelation 14:14, 20)
- Jesus’ coming to judgment was the time of the fall of Jerusalem in 70ad. The good news is that “the end” of the Old Covenant is consummated and past. The Kingdom of God is here! And it is coming into the world evermoreso through us now. Jesus’ coming, therefore, is not something that is going to happen “TO US” in the future. Rather, His life, light, love and presence is coming to the world THROUGH us NOW! The great mystery to us physically minded earthlings is coming to understand how Jesus is more truly present here with us now than he ever was while he walked the earth. Spiritually, he lives in us, in untold numbers of us at once. And we see him ceaselessly visiting His Church, blessing and healing the world.
- So there is no justification for Christians to preach a fear-based message of ‘Repent now because Jesus may be coming soon to end the world and you don’t want to be left behind!” Perhaps well-intentioned, this is little more than fear-mongering. Instead, when you finally see that Jesus did what He said He would do, and came when He said He would come, you can share the story of the great faithfulness of God in Jesus, of His reliability and trustworthiness, of how He spoke accurately and authentically from God. Jesus did not fail to keep his promiseÂ to come to His disciples in their generation and to resurrect them to life anew in the body of Christ. Even though we may have failed at keeping a correct understanding of what His coming to consummate his Kingdom on earth would look like.
- The empowerment in this message is that we can be a part of God’s story of renewal and rebirth in the world. God has chosen to work through us in the world, as co-creators of a Great Kingdom. He didn’t leave us abandoned in a disintegrating world, only to have us put our hope in escaping it. He will not someday snatch this world away from us as if to say “Fine! Enough already! I’ll do it myself then!” because our efforts alone were inadequate. Because He has not left us alone! He fills us both personally and corporately with His Resurrection Life, Light, Spirit and Presence. He says there’s a place for each of us in Jesus’ body just like there’s a place for each member of our body to work together for good.
So from this lesson remember – we are not here alone awaiting rescue from a fallen world. The God who redeemed the world is here – NOW – working THROUGH us. As God’s chosen vessels, we can participate in channeling his love, blessing and healing to the world. Jesus’ coming, therefore, is not something that is going to happen “TO US” in the future. Rather, His life, light, love and presence is coming into the world THROUGH us RIGHT NOW!
COMINGS OF JESUS
Related to the idea of a ‘Coming of God’ in judgment are many other post-ascension appearances or comings of Jesus. This reminds us not to limit Jesus’ comings to his first and second advents, but to remember that HE IS HERE, IN US and AMONG US, coming and continually coming and going.
Jesus appeared to Stephen (Acts 7:55-56, Mt 26:64-65)
Jesus appeared to Saul of Tarsus (Paul) (Acts 9:3,4,7)
Jesus appeared to Peter when he fell into a trance (Acts 10:9, 11, 13-14)
Jesus appeared to Paul warning him to leave Jerusalem (Acts 22:17-18, 23:11)
Jesus appeared to John on Patmos (Rev 1:17)
Jesus promised his disciples He would be WITH them always, especially until the end of the age (in 70AD) (Mt 28:20)
Jesus was working with His disciples, confirming them with signs (Mk 16:20)
A note about “cloud coming” language. More than a dozen times in the Old Testament, God is depicted as “coming with/in the clouds.” It is evident from a study of the use of this language, that these are not literal visible comings of beings on clouds. It is the way that a deity is poetically and symbolically described as coming in judgment, redemption or glory. Likewise, Jesus is described as ‘coming in the clouds’ at least five times in the New Testament using the SAME LANGUAGE. Should we not alsoÂ extend the same imagery that is confirmed as symbolic about God into the language describing Jesus? If the Hebrew Scriptures use the same symbolic language to describe God coming as the Hebrew writers of the New Testament use to describe Jesus coming, WHY, if God’s comings were not physical and visible, do people insist on Jesus’ coming being physical and visible? Should we not take our cues from God and Scripture themselves??