What does it mean that Jesus will come in the clouds (Revelation 1:7)?
This is a reference to the second coming of Christ. It all starts when he calls himself the Son of Man in the Gospels. Most scholars believe it’s a reference to the Son of Man coming in the clouds in Daniel 7:13-14.
In that passage, one like a Son of Man comes in the clouds and is given everlasting dominion over the peoples and nations of the earth. This describes Jesus when he goes back to heaven and God puts him on the throne and gives him everything in creation that submits to him.
Jesus described himself this way in the Gospels because he was inaugurating the kingdom of God. It started with his first coming, the incarnation, and it continues through the new heavens and the new earth.
But he will literally fulfill the prophecy of Daniel 7:13-14 in his second coming. This is when he comes in the clouds to take the church home to heaven in the end times. It is described by Jesus himself as he talks about the end times in Matthew 24:29-31.
It will be preceded by the tribulation of the saints, celestial shaking, where the moon will become dark along with the sun, and the stars will fall out of the sky (Matthew 24:29). This sinful world will all see his coming. It will be unmistakable (Matthew 24:30). And then he will send out his angels to collect the saints from all over the world (Matthew 24:31).
In 1 Thessalonians, Paul elaborates on this “catching up” of the Saints to be with the Lord in the clouds (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Because he was kicked out of Thessalonica before he could finish teaching the Saints all of the doctrines, he was afraid the great persecution in that city would turn them away from the Lord.
One of the things he apparently did not get through teaching them was about what we now call the rapture, or the “catching up” of the saints in glory when Christ returns in the second coming.
Because we completely believe in Jesus, including his resurrection from the dead, we don’t mourn as others in the world mourn when the saints pass away (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14). The Thessalonians, because of the intense persecution, thought they had missed the rapture.
But Paul writes to clarify that they have not missed the rapture because they have not seen all the signs of the second coming of the Son of Man, Jesus Christ. Paul makes an apostolic declaration that even those who are alive in Christ will be taken up along with those who have died in Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:15).
No one is going to miss the event of the second coming of Christ. Jesus will descend from heaven himself and will cry out a command to join him (1 Thessalonians 4:16). There will be a loud trumpet shout to declare his presence to the earth.
Paul now clarifies that first the dead in Christ will be raised (1 Thessalonians 4:16). And then after that, we who are alive in Christ will join them in the air, in the clouds with Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:17). Jesus descends from heaven into the clouds, but no further. And all of the Saints join him in the air.
The language of the rapture, to be “caught up” with him in the air, occurs in this verse. After we rise to join Christ in the air, we will be with him always (1 Thessalonians 4:17). We are to encourage one another with these words, and this doctrine is called the blessed hope of the church (1 Thessalonians 4:18).
Paul also describes this elsewhere, in 1 Corinthians 15. There he describes the event as the perishable putting on the imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:50-58). We know he’s talking about the same event because he has some of the same elements, the dead in Christ rising first and then the living, the transforming in the air in the clouds with the Lord.
He adds even more detail as he tells us that this will be a very quick transformation, in the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15:52). Many people think that everyone will watch us disappear into the air, but Paul makes it sound like it will happen so fast that will be there one moment and called another.
This agrees with Jesus describing the event as to people being with one another and then one disappearing (Matthew 24:40-41). We have some of the same elements as in 1 Thessalonians 4 and Matthew 24. There will be the sound of a trumpet (1 Corinthians 15:52).
This will be the final moment of victory for all the church. Finally the saints, both those who have preceded us in death, and those who are still alive, will experience the final victory over sin. Sin’s power is in causing death, but that will be the day that all will be resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).
This was a standard doctrine of the church. This is confirmed because Jesus, Paul, and now John all talk about it in similar terminology. In Revelation 1:7, John mentions Jesus coming in the clouds as Paul in Jesus himself did.
He confirms as did Paul that the earth, every inhabitant on it at the time of Christ’s second coming, we’ll see him descending into the clouds. It will be seen as God’s judgment upon the earth. Those who pierced him refers to those who are against Christ. The whole earth will respond in wailing and weeping because it knows it is judged.