Monday, May 14, 2012

The Clouds of Heaven

For this post we'll be discussing Mark 14:62, which reads:

“And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
Now, for any regular church going Christian, this verse would mean only one thing--Jesus' second coming. But, what if I told you that's not what He was referring to?

Resurrection of Christ
If you simply read Scripture in a devotional way where you hand pick certain readings on a daily basis, coming to this verse may be of no help. Rather than letting Scripture interpret Scripture, we're all prone to our biases when reading certain verses. In the case of Mark 14:62, most Christians (I'm assuming) would think that Jesus is very directly referring to His second coming. But, when we allow Scripture itself help us understand Jesus' statement, we see an entirely different interpretation.

For this discussion, we have to ask ourselves the first question? What is Jesus' talking about?

If you're familiar with the book of Daniel, you'll know exactly what Jesus is talking about. We have to start there in order to "interpret" why Jesus is saying what He is saying and what it all means.

There is no dispute that Jesus here is referring to Daniel 7:13 (hover over this verse link and you'll see the verse pop up).

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence."
Before we dive into this verse, it is first necessary to build context around it. For this we have to start at verse 9 and 10:
“As I looked, thrones were set in place,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat.
His clothing was as white as snow;
the hair of his head was white like wool.
His throne was flaming with fire,
and its wheels were all ablaze.

10 A river of fire was flowing,
coming out from before him.
Thousands upon thousands attended him;
ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.
The court was seated,
and the books were opened."
We are clearly in a heavenly court scene. The "Ancient of Days" is none other than YHWH, the Judge. So, as Daniel is watching his vision, he is seeing heaven and YHWH taking His seat. What follows is Daniel seeing the beast being destroyed and "stripped of authority."

Now we can get the verse in Mark.

Jesus is referring to himself as the "son of man" and his hearers would know that Jesus was referring to Daniel. Here's where everything gets interesting.

As I said in the beginning of this post, most people think this is speaking about the Second Coming. But, as we can see in Daniel, we get a very different meaning. Part of the confusion is language. We're accustomed to hearing about the Second Coming and when Jesus says you will see him "...coming on the clouds of heaven," we make the connection. Ah!, we say, this must be the talking about the Second Coming, what else? 

Here's what we know. Jesus is clearly, without a doubt, referring to Daniel 7:13 when he says you will see Him "...coming on the clouds of heaven." Since that is what he is referring to, we must necessarily go to Daniel to also  understand what Jesus is saying and why.

Take this into account. Daniel's vision is very clearly set in a heavenly scene, it would be hard to disagree with this. Although heaven doesn't have a locale within space and time, it is symbolically referred to as being "up there."

As Christians, we understand Jesus' final advent as a descent into our universe, coming from heaven to earth as it were. It's not that we understand it as Jesus will physically be coming out of the sky (though some do) into earth, it's just that "coming from above" is a way of saying "coming from heaven." The final advent, of course, is when all things are restored and heaven and earth are finally united.

So it helps our conversation to understand the "location" of heaven and earth as we understand it. Heaven is above, earth is below.

When Christians read Mark 14:62 here, they may imagine that this is Jesus "coming" from heaven to earth. But, as I mentioned earlier, in order to know what Jesus is talking about we have to refer to what he is referring to, which is Daniel 7:13.

When we go to Daniel 7:13, we can build some context as long as we read that verse within its own context.  Now that you've read Daniel 7:9-10 (if you haven't, do so now), lets look at Daniel 7:13:

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.
I put the last sentence in bold. Maybe you know what I'm getting at already, but lets elaborate. The first sentence describes the "...son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven." Then right after, "He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence."

Who is the Ancient of Days? YHWH.

Where is YHWH's throne? Heaven.

Who is the son of man approaching? YHWH

Where is the son of man approaching Him? Heaven.

So, the "...coming with the clouds of heaven" has an upwards trajectory not a downwards. This can mean only one thing--this verse is not referring to the Second Coming.

Verse 14 adds more context to this:

He was given authority, glory and sovereign power

If what Daniel saw in his vision was the Second Coming, are we to suppose that Jesus only has authority, glory, and sovereign power at that time?

We don't need to guess. First, in Matthew 28:18, post-resurrection, Jesus says:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
And of course, Stephen see's Jesus, post-resurrection in heaven:
“I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
It is clear also that placed against the backdrop of Caesar, followers pulled no punches when they proclaimed Jesus as king:
“These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, 7 and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” (Acts 17:5-7)
There are many other places and references we could make both in the OT and NT, but the point is that Jesus HAS authority on earth and in heaven.

This leaves us coming away from Mark with something completely different. Jesus isn't referring to his second coming, he is referring to the resurrection and everything that comes after.

This is not to say that there is no Second Coming, but that this reference isn't talking about the Second Coming. Jesus is the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven TO the throne of YHWH where he will be vindicated and given authority over heaven and earth. When he delivers the death blow to Satan on the cross, He shows his victory in the resurrection and has authority over heaven and earth. We are called to exercise that authority by preaching the sovereign rule of Jesus as King and Lord. I will be posting on this topic soon.

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