What is a “Coming of the Lord”?

A bright sun shining through the clouds on a sunny day.

One of the reasons there is so much confusion about Jesus’s second coming is because of the apocalyptic descriptions of it. For example, Jesus said he would “come on clouds” and “the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven” (Matt. 24:29–31). While this may sound to many readers in 21st-century America like it is describing the end of the world, this is apocalyptic language that was never intended to be taken literally. But don’t just take my word for it; let’s allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. How do we do that? By looking back at the Old Testament to see how such apocalyptic language was used there. This will give us a biblical foundation upon which to interpret similar language in the New Testament.

Old Testament Comings of the Lord

Consider the following Old Testament passages about the God the Father’s comings. Pay close attention to not only the apocalyptic descriptions, but also the fulfillment dates noted below each passage:  

Isaiah 19:1: “Behold, the Lord rides on a swift cloud, and will come into Egypt; the idols of Egypt will totter at His presence, and the heart of Egypt will melt in its midst.”

Note: As the passage says, this cloud coming was a judgment against Egypt. In fact, the next chapter (Isaiah 20) says God used Sargon, the king of Assyria, to carry it out. This cloud coming happened in approximately 700 BC.

Isaiah 13:9–13: “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. For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be darkened in its going forth, and the moon will not cause its light to shine. I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity. Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth will move out of her place.”

Note: This was a prophecy about a judgment against Babylon (Isa. 13:1) that was fulfilled in 689 BC. As the context shows, God used the Medes to carry it out (see 13:17).

Isaiah 34:3–4: “The mountains shall be melted with their blood. All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll; all their host shall fall down. For My sword shall be bathed in heaven; Indeed it shall come down on Edom (italics mine).”

Note: As the passage itself says, this was a prophecy against Edom. God used the Babylonians to carry out this judgment in around 600 BC.[1] In fact, Malachi 1, which was written a couple of centuries later, confirms Edom was destroyed.

Zephaniah 1:14–18: “Near is the great day of the Lord. And all the earth will be devoured in the fire of His jealousy, for He will make a complete end, indeed a terrifying one, of all the inhabitants of the earth.”

Note: This Day of the Lord happened in 586 BC, when God used the Babylonians to judge Israel.[2]

Ezekiel 32:7–8, 15: “And when I extinguish you, I will cover the heavens and darken their stars; I will cover the sun with a cloud and the moon will not give its light. All the shining lights in the heavens I will darken over you and will set darkness on your land when I make Egypt a desolation.”

Note: This prophecy of the judgment of Egypt was fulfilled in approximately 580 BC.[3]

Micah 1:3–4: “For behold, the Lord is coming out of His place; He will come down and tread on the high places of the earth. The mountains will melt under Him, and the valleys will split.”

Note: This coming of the Lord happened somewhere between 721 and 712 BC, when Assyria took Israel’s ten northern tribes into captivity.[4]

Psalms 18:7–17:

“Then the earth shook and trembled
The foundations of the hills also quaked and were shaken,
Because He [God] was angry.
Smoke went up from His nostrils,
And devouring fire from His mouth.
He bowed the heavens also, and came down
With darkness under His feet
And thick clouds of the skies.
From the brightness before Him,
His thick clouds passed with hailstones and coals of fire.
The Lord thundered from heaven,
And the Most High uttered His voice,
Hailstones and coals of fire
Lightnings in abundance, and He vanquished them
The foundations of the world were uncovered
At Your rebuke, O Lord,
At the blast of the breath of Your nostrils.
He delivered me [King David] from my strong enemy [Saul],
From those who hated me,
For they were too strong for me (italics mine).”

Note: This cloud coming happened approximately 1000 BC, when God saved David from Saul. Saul had been chasing David all around Israel in order to kill him, but God protected David.

Apocalyptic Language

As noted, all of these Old Testament comings happened centuries ago, but they did not happen literally as described. God never literally rode a cloud (physically and bodily) down to earth, and the sun, moon, and stars never literally fell to earth. In fact, had a single star literally fallen to earth, it would have destroyed the planet. (A meteor wiped out the dinosaurs.) The fact that we are still here discussing these prophecies should be more than enough evidence to convince even the most ardent literalist that the apocalyptic descriptions were not meant literally.

Apocalyptic language is essentially hyperbole or exaggeration. Apocalyptic language was used by the ancient Hebrew writers to emphasize important points and to get people’s attention. We, too, use similar hyperbole and exaggeration all the time (all the time?). Often, we do not even realize we are doing it. I could give “millions” of examples:

-It’s raining cats and dogs.

-If you don’t quit bugging me, I’m going to put your lights out.

-I’ve told you a thousand times not to run in the house.

-I’ve been waiting ages for you.

-I wouldn’t be caught dead in that dress.

-I died laughing.

We often use hyperbole and figurative language to emphasize important points and spice up our language. In fact, if a foreigner wanted to learn English, he would not only have to learn the definitions of our words, but he would also have to learn our figures of speech, expressions, idioms, and hyperbolic statements. Only then would he be proficient in English.

The same is true for those trying to learn the language of the Bible, except there is an additional problem: we are trying to understand figures of speech, expressions, and hyperbole from thousands of years ago, which people no longer use. Thankfully, we have an entire body of literature in the Old and New Testaments from which to learn how the language is used.

Old Testament / New Testament Comparisons

Apocalyptic language is rich in symbolism. Consider the term “sun, moon, and stars.” In Genesis 37:9–11, Joseph had a dream about the sun, moon, and stars bowing down to him. After telling his brothers about the dream, the brothers became angry because they understood that the sun, moon, and stars represented their father, mother, and them. In essence, Joseph was prophesying that his entire family would one day bow down to him, which made his brothers angry. (By the way, this prophecy came to pass exactly as Joseph said–see Gen. 42:6.)

The same kind of sun, moon, and stars imagery is used in Revelation to describe Israel: “Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth.” (Rev. 12:1). Virtually all commentators agree the woman represents Israel, and the child represents Jesus/the church.

Such imagery was also used in the Old Testament to describe pagan nations and political rulers. When a nation was doing well, its celestial lights shone bright. But in times of judgment from God, its lights grew dim and/or fell to earth. We today might say God put their lights out! One of the Old Testament passages listed above is a great example of this: “Behold the day of the Lord comes. For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be darkened in its going forth, and the moon will not cause its light to shine” (Isa. 13:9). This was an oracle about the judgment of Babylon that was fulfilled around 600 BC. God put out Babylon’s lights!

Jesus used the very same kind of apocalyptic language in the Olivet Discourse[5] when prophesying about his second coming. The discourse begins with Jesus, in approximately AD 33, warning his disciples about the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple: “These things which you see [the temple stones], the days will come in which not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down” (Luke 21:5–6). The disciples then ask when it would happen: “Teacher, but when will these things be? And what sign will there be when these things are about to take place?” (v. 7). Jesus then lists the various precursors such as false messiahs, nations rising up against nations, famine, etc. and says: “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near” (v. 21). . . “Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (v. 24). . . “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars” (v. 25, italics mine). . .”Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (v. 27). . . “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place” (v. 32, italics mine).

Jesus was prophesying judgment on Israel and her lofty leaders (the sun, moon, and stars) within a generation. Note: a biblical generation equates to approximately forty years (see Heb. 3:8–10, Num. 14:30–34, Neh. 9:21). Since Jesus uttered this prophecy in approximately AD 33, therefore, it must have been fulfilled by around AD 70. And it was! According to the first-century Jewish historian Josephus, the city of Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in the Jewish/Roman War of AD 67–70. More than 1.1 million Jews were killed, and another ninety-seven thousand were taken into slavery.[6] God put out Israel’s lights!

The term “coming on clouds” has similar connotations. A cloud coming refers to God/Jesus coming in judgment against a nation or entity. It does not refer to God/Jesus physically riding a cloud down to earth. As the above list of Old Testament passages shows, God the Father came on clouds many times throughout history. While there were certainly plenty of physical signs (evidence) to substantiate these comings–such as the destruction of property and loss of life–nevertheless, nobody ever saw God physically/bodily riding a cloud down to earth. It was more of an awareness of what God had done. God’s prophets had warned that the judgments were coming, and then the judgments happened exactly when they were supposed to. The on-time fulfillments confirmed that God was really behind it all.

The same is true in Jesus’s case. As noted in the passage above, Jesus prophesied he would come on clouds against Israel within a generation (Luke 21:27, 32), and forty years later, Israel was destroyed.

Another important point to note regarding those Old Testament coming passages listed above is that despite all the apocalyptic descriptions, God used people and armies to carry out the judgments. For example, when God judged Egypt, he used Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, to carry it out. Nebuchadnezzar was “the sword in God’s hand” (Ez. 30:27–25). At another time, Assyria was “the rod of God’s anger” against Israel (Isa. 10:5–12). At another time, “the Lord rode a swift cloud” in judgment against Egypt, and God used the Assyrian king to carry out the destruction (Isa.19–20). At another time, the Medes were God’s “instrument of indignation” against Babylon (Isa. 13:5, 17). At another time, Babylon was “[God’s] hammer [to judge] all the earth” (Jer. 50:23). As these many examples show, God used people and armies to carry out the judgments. And Jesus did the same thing at his cloud coming against Israel. In this case, Jesus used the Roman armies.

When reading the Bible, we must never lose sight of the fact that we are reading ancient Hebraic literature, not a modern-day news article. The Jewish prophets of old used emotive terms, vivid pictures, and powerful descriptions that created terror and inspired awe.[7] They wanted their audiences to know exactly what it would feel like to experience God’s judgments. Nevertheless, their apocalyptic descriptions were meant no more literally than the expressions we use today.

Imagine it was the year 4025, and a man named Nova stumbled upon a book that was written back in 2025 in which the author said, “It rained cats and dogs during the 2025 Jerusalem Parade.” If Nova was not familiar with the expression “raining cats and dogs,” he might mistakenly conclude that either (1) really weird climatic events occurred in Israel in 2025, or (2) the author of the book was just, plain nuts. But either way, Nova would be mistaken. As we in modern-day America all know, “raining cats and dogs” is nothing more than an expression that means “raining hard.” The expression was never meant to be taken literally.

Unfortunately, this kind of misunderstanding happens all too often when people today read the Bible. Because of their unfamiliarity with apocalyptic language, they mistakenly conclude that terms such as “coming on clouds” and “the sun, moon, and stars falling to earth” were meant literally. This kind of hyperliteralization has led to all kinds of eschatological and doctrinal errors over the centuries. What’s more, it has also led to much-unwarranted skepticism of the Bible as readers have mistakenly concluded that the apocalyptic-sounding prophecies failed to come to pass in the stated timeframe.

Since the apocalyptic descriptions in the Old Testament were meant figuratively–as opposed to literally–this should be a dead giveaway that the same kind of apocalyptic descriptions in the New Testament were meant figuratively too. After all, the ancient Hebrews wrote both! With the possible exception of Luke, the New Testament writers were all Jews deeply immersed in Hebraic culture. The New Testament (New Covenant) writers did not all of a sudden come up with a new way of speaking after the Messiah arrived on the scene; they used the language of their countrymen, that is, the language of the Old Testament (Old Covenant). Theologian Don Preston[8] writes:

“We should first of all be cognizant of the fact that the New Covenant writers were Jews steeped in this Old Covenant thought. They lived, ate, thought, and were consumed by that Old Covenant. The Old Covenant is the well-spring of the New Covenant. The New Covenant writers did not suddenly develop a new vocabulary or a new way of expressing thought. The Holy Spirit utilized their training, thoughts, and words to express New Covenant realities.”[9]

This becomes crystal clear when we compare the Old and New Testaments. We find all the same apocalyptic descriptions, symbolism, and terminology. Both Father and Son are described as coming on clouds (Isa. 19:1; Matt. 24:30), with a shout (Jer. 25:30; 1 Thess. 4:16), with lightning (Ez. 21:10; Ps. 18:17; Matt. 24:27), with the sound of a trumpet (Isa. 27:13; Matt. 24:31), with ten thousand saints/an army of angels (Deut. 33:1; Jude 1:14), in flaming fire (Isa. 30:30; 2 Thess. 1:8).

We also find the same kinds of destruction of heaven and earth (Isa. 13:9–13, 34:1–4; 2 Pet. 3:7), the planet melting/burning up (Mic. 1:3; 2 Pet. 3:7), stars falling from heaven (Isa. 34:4; Matt. 24:29), the sun, moon, and stars growing dim / falling from the sky (Isa. 13:10; Matt. 24:29), and hailstones and fiery skies (Isa. 30:30; Ps. 18:13; Rev. 16:21). Note: Freezing cold hailstones and fiery skies at the same time? This screams “figurative language!”

It is clear that the New Testament writers used the language of the Old Testament. Moreover, it is highly unlikely they meant their apocalyptic descriptions any differently than did the Old Testament prophets. Had they intended such a change–which would have been monumental indeed–they surely would have said so somewhere in their writings. How else would anyone have known? Yet there is not a single word about such a change anywhere in the New Testament. The New Testament writers obviously intended their apocalyptic language in the same way as the Old Testament writers did–figuratively!

In other words, since the Father never literally came on cloud (physically and bodily), then neither would Jesus. And since the Father’s multiple comings in the Old Testament did not equate to the end of the world–despite all the apocalyptic descriptions–then neither would Jesus’s. In fact, Jesus specifically said he would do things in the same manner as the Father had: “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He [the Father] does, the Son also does in like manner” (John 5:19, italics mine). Jesus was specifically talking here about his upcoming judgment/coming (v. 22), and he said he would do it in the same manner as his Father (in Old Testament times). As Preston so aptly put it, “like Father, like Son.” Since the Father did not come on clouds physically and bodily at his various cloud comings, then neither would Jesus at his cloud coming (second coming)!

Note: There are some passages that are often cited to “prove” that Jesus will return to earth physically and bodily (at the second coming), and these passages are discussed in detail my book The End is Here, available summer 2024.

Alex Polyak, The Bible Fulfilled 12/29/23

[1] Don Preston, The Elements Shall Melt with Fervent Heat: A Study of 2 Peter 3, 2d ed. (Ardmore, OK: JaDon Management, 2012), 92.

[2] Ibid., 94.

[3] Ibid., 93.

[4] Ibid., 93.

[5] This is one of Jesus’s most famous discourses, which he gave about a week before his crucifixion. It is recorded in Matthew 24, Luke 21:5–32, and Mark 13. Many theologians also believe Revelation is John’s expanded version of the Olivet Discourse written on the eve of fulfillment (see my book The End is Here, available summer 2024, for a detailed discussion of the Olivet Discourse and Revelation).

[6] Gary DeMar, End Times Fiction: A Biblical Consideration of the Left Behind Theology (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001), 41.

[7] Edward William Fudge, The Fire That Consumes, 3d ed. (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011), 70.

[8] Don Preston is the president of Preterist Research Institute. (A preterist is someone who believes the second coming happened in AD 70.) Preston is a well-known debater and author of many excellent books on eschatology.

[9] Preston, Elements Shall Melt with Fervent Heat, 97.