When Did Jesus Come on the Clouds of Heaven?

One of the more difficult verses for those of us who believe Matthew 24 is referring to the destruction of Jerusalem is Matthew 24:30. Here we are told that “They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”  A vast majority of Americans cannot imagine this verse referring to anything other than the 2nd coming of Christ. Yet Scripture tells a different story.

Matthew 24:30 is a quote from Daniel 7:13. Here is Daniel 7:13-14:

(13)  “I saw in the night visions, and 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.

(14)  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.

Jesus is clearly referring to this verse when he says this in Matthew 24:30. A couple of observations about Daniel 7:30.

First, the Son of Man is Jesus. This is obvious from the numerous times Jesus calls himself that.

Second, the Son of  Man is coming up, not down. He is going up to the Ancient of Days, a reference to God the Father.

Third, when he goes up he is given dominion. He does not have to wait to receive the world or to become King. He is given rule when he ascends.

So when does this event occur? Let’s look at four verses that tell us, three from Matthew and one from Acts.

In Matthew 16:28 Jesus says that some of his disciples will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom. Some commentators think this refers to the Transfiguration in Matthew 17. However, this is unlikely since the terminus is the death of some of the disciples. If they were going to see the Kingdom in six days (17:1) this statement makes no sense. So some of the disciples would see Son of Man coming in his Kingdom before they die. Again the coming of the Son of Man is not some far off event.

In Matthew 26:63 the high priest asks Jesus to tell him plainly, “Are you the Christ, the Son of God?” Jesus replies saying, “It is as you say. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” The key phrase is “hereafter” or “from now on (ESV).” The word means from this moment on, at this exact moment, up until now. It does not contain any idea that this is some long off event. For example, it is used in 26:53 where Jesus says that the Father can send twelve legions “at once” (ESV).  (See Matthew 3:15, 9:18, 11:12, 23:39, and 26:39 where the word is also used.) So Jesus here is not saying that in some long off future 2,000 plus years away, I will come back to earth on the clouds of heaven. No. He is telling the high priest that from now on I will be seated at the right hand of the Father and coming on the clouds of heaven. It is a very near reality.

In Matthew 28:18 Jesus says that all authority has been (past tense) given to  him and therefore we should disciple the nations. Daniel 7:14 matches up exactly with this idea.

Finally, in Acts 1:9 Jesus goes up to the Father on the clouds of heaven and in 2:34-36 Peter makes clear that Jesus is now sitting at the right hand of the Father. We could also throw in Stephen’s vision of Christ at his death (Acts 7:56).

This does not mean Jesus will not return. Of course, he will. Acts 1:11, among many other passages, makes that clear. But it does mean the coming mentioned in Matthew 24:30 is not the second coming. It has already taken place.