2 Chronicles 7:1–10
Joni Mitchell famously sang that she had seen clouds from both sides. On one side as ‘angel hair and ice cream castles in the air’ and feathers. But she also saw them as something that brought ‘rain and snow on everyone’ and blocked the sun.
Those are not the only ways of looking at clouds though. There is also a scriptural way of looking at clouds. Easter is the church season when we tell how Jesus left the earth in his body, ascending into heaven. “He was taken up into a cloud while they were watching,” it says in Acts 1:9.
The apostles who watched this were told by two white-robed men, angels, that Jesus “will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”
There are some passages in Scripture that seem to mention this future event. For example:
“Look! He comes with the clouds of heaven. And everyone will see him—even those who pierced him.” (Revelation 1:7)
We also have the words of Jesus himself, who said; “They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 24:30)
The Ascension of Jesus and the Second Coming are vital Christian doctrines. I absolutely believe that Jesus ascended bodily and will return. Some Christians understand these verses and in particular Paul’s depiction of the end in 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17 somewhat literally. They take them to mean that Jesus will return riding on a cloud much as one might ride on a chariot or a bus. Paul writes in these verses that, “we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”
The word for cloud used in the Hebrew Old Testament, for example in Exodus 16:10, is ‘ânan’ and it means a covering. That’s because clouds cover the sky. In this sense, they conceal the glory of God. The word ‘cloud’ is used as a symbol of the Divine presence, as indicating the splendour of that concealed glory.
A bright cloud is the symbolical seat of the Divine presence (Exodus 29:42, 43; 1 Kings 8:10; 2 Chronicles 5:14; Ezekiel 43:4), and was called the Shekinah.
Jehovah came down upon Sinai in a cloud (Exodus 19:9); and the cloud filled the court around the tabernacle in the wilderness so that Moses could not enter it (Exodus 40:34, Exodus 40:35). At the dedication of the temple also the cloud “filled the Temple of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:10).
Scripture encourages us to view the clouds in such a way as to think of the glory and presence of God. The Scriptures everywhere utilize the imagery of clouds to signal the immediate presence of God in time and space.
The first place where clouds play a prominent role in redemptive history is in the flood narrative. No sooner had Noah and his family left the Ark than the Lord placed his rainbow in the clouds. This was God’s holy reminder of the covenant mercy he was promising in preparation for the coming Redeemer.
“When I see the rainbow in the clouds, I will remember the eternal covenant between God and every living creature on earth.” (Genesis 9:16)
The Lord brought his people out of Egypt in the Exodus. God led them out and through the wilderness for 40 years by means of the pillar of cloud. The cloud is God’s presence with the Hebrew people. By night it is lit up, shining with the light of God’s glory.
Psalm 104 says, ‘You make the clouds your chariot;’ Nahum 1:3 says, ‘billowing clouds are the dust beneath his feet.’
Scripture uses clouds to indicate God’s presence. The very first time God came in the clouds to save his people was in the desert.
It goes on. When Moses met God and received the ten commandments, Scripture says it was in a cloud. “Moses climbed up the mountain, and the cloud covered it. And the glory of the Lord settled down on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from inside the cloud.” (Exodus 24:15–16)
Exodus 33:9 – “As he went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and hover at its entrance while the Lord spoke with Moses.”
Exodus 40:34 – “Then the cloud covered the Tabernacle, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. Moses could no longer enter the Tabernacle because the cloud had settled down over it, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.”
The glory of God, as we read earlier, filled the temple in Jerusalem in a similar manner.
This is all pointing forward to the first coming of Jesus the Messiah. When Jesus was baptised, the spirit of God, which looked like a dove, came down on him and God spoke from heaven. “This is my dearly loved Son.”
Luke 9 tells of how Jesus took his closest disciples Peter, John, and James up on a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face was transformed, and his clothes became dazzling white. A cloud overshadowed them, and terror gripped them as the cloud covered them. Then a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him.”
Just as the glory of God came down in a cloud on mount Sinai, so God came in a cloud of glory on the mount of transfiguration. The cloud is not a dark rain cloud. The cloud of God’s presence is filled with the light of his glory. It shines from within, and so it can look like fire or flames.
This is a cloud of warmth and love. It’s God’s amazing presence. The cloud is the glory of God. The glory of God filled the tabernacle. The glory of God filled the Temple. The glory of God came down on Jesus and filled him.
Last week we remembered Pentecost, when something that looked like flames came down on the believers and they were filled with the Holy Spirit.
The New Testament builds on ancient biblical prophecy. It envisages that the creator God will remake heaven and earth entirely, filling it with his glory.
We are changed and remade by the glory of God that shines within us.
We who are believers are now God’s Temple, according to 1 Corinthians 3:17. “God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”
God is filling the world with his glory cloud by filling his children with his glory. Jesus ascended into God’s glory, not into a cloud of water vapour. When he returns as he left, Jesus will arrive on the cloud of God’s glory. The glory that fills his followers is the cloud. We are filled with the glory of God and surrounded by the cloud. We are protected as we are being changed.
Moses didn’t realise how brightly his face shone when he was filled with God’s glory, and you don’t realise how the glory of God shines from you. You walk in a cloud of light that shines into a dark world. Your mere presence gives light and hope, because you are filled with God’s glory.
We are being transformed. And as we shine with the glory of God, the world around us is being transformed. The world is being changed by God’s spirit in us ready for Jesus to return in a cloud of glory and take his place.
One final important word. This life is not about us as individuals alone being holy. In addition to being a tabernacle or temple, each individual born again believer in Jesus Christ is part of the Body of Christ that is also called the church. Church is not an organisation you join; it is a family where you belong, a home where you are loved and a hospital where you find healing. This church is composed of you and I. We are together a holy home for the Holy Spirit, a sacred residence for the glory of God. We are a body of people set apart and made holy through the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. All together in fellowship we live as the body of Christ.