by A.E. Knoch

EVER ALERT to hear the last blast of our Lord's trumpet, and ready to rise to meet Him in the air, the next moment may find us in the clouds (1 Thess.4:17). This certainly does not mean that we will be "lost in a fog", as some might interpret it, for, spiritually speaking, we will be "at home with the Lord". (2 Cor.5:8-9). To be sure just what is meant, let us carefully consider what God's Word reveals about the clouds elsewhere.

      Even if we should hear His trumpet call while still in our present mortal, soilish bodies and attempt to reach Him on high, we would not be able to overcome the force of gravity and could not see our way through the enveloping clouds. The one indispensable necessity for our rapture is a spiritual body in place of our present soulish, fleshly frame. We need a body like the one our Lord received in resurrection. As even He did not attempt to ascend into space before this change, how could a mortal human hope to do so? But Paul promises us that, just as we now have soulish bodies, we will then receive spiritual ones.


      No clouds hid the higher heavens from the habitation of humanity before the deluge. But after that the Subjector used them to make a covenant with all mankind which is still in force. Here, for the first time in His Word, clouds are mentioned. In these clouds He now displays the radiant rainbow by refracting the sun's rays into their beautiful colors. This continues to remind our race of His judgment in the past and of His promise for the future. Never again will He wipe all flesh from the face of the earth. But the clouds also indicate a greater estrangement between God and men than there was before that event when He appeared more often and more directly to them. The flood and its clouds even separate the ancient world or eon from this present one (2 Peter 2:5).


      When the nation of Israel was chosen to be God's special terrestrial people, through which He would reach the rest of the earth, and He wanted to dwell among them in a tabernacle, He gave them a ritual, which by no means brought them into the intimate contact with Him that Adam had in Eden, but kept them at a distance by means of holy places, shut off by walls and curtains. This had to be, in order to impress on the people's minds that sin, which had caused man to be driven out of Eden, made it impossible for a holy God to have fellowship with them before the great Sacrifice for sin was offered and thus the way into His presence was open again. And so, in such a setting, we again come into contact with clouds.


      When Ieue led Israel into the wilderness in order to reveal to them how He would dwell in their midst, He did not speak to them in the plain where He had first brought them, bat from a high mountain top, to be reached only by much effort, and then only by an intermediary. This high peak was covered with clouds, and we read that the function of the cloud was to hide His holiness from them.

      "And covering the mountain is the cloud. And tabernacling is the glory of Ieue over mount Sinai. And covering it is the cloud six days. And calling is Ieue to Moses on the seventh day from the midst of the cloud. And the appearance of the glory of Ieue is as a devouring fire on the summit of the mountain, to the eyes of the sons of Israel.

      "And entering is Moses into the midst of the cloud, and is going up into the mountain, and Moses is coming to be there in the mountain forty days and forty nights". (Ex.24:15-18).


      The awful solemnity of the scene on Mount Sinai is emphasized by the heavy cloud covering it, the darkness which it spread and the thunders and lightnings coming out of it, as we read in Exodus 19:16 and Hebrews 12:18. There Ieue gave Moses the law, and the cloud hid His righteousness that was expressed by it. And there He instructed Moses further as to the entire tabernacle ritual that was to teach Israel His holiness, which demanded that He must keep at a distance from the sinner. Anyone who even saw the tablets of the law exposed was doomed to die. Anyone who approached Ieue at variance with His own strict rules was killed on the spot.


      "And Ieue is going before them by day in a column of cloud to guide them in the way, and by night a column of fire to give light to them, to go by day and night. Not removing is the cloud by day nor the column of fire by night from before all the people". (Ex.1:21-22).

      Ieue guided his earthly people through the wilderness by means of a cloud column in the daytime and a pillar of fire after dark. The direction that they were to travel was never in doubt. Yet His actual presence was veiled from view, to shield them from His righteousness. While, during the day, the Israelites attempted to do the works of the law, Ieue's presence was clouded. Yet at night, when no one can work (John 9:4), His presence produced Divine light.


      "And on the day the tabernacle is set up, the cloud covers the tabernacle, the tent of testimony. And in the evening it is coming to be on the tabernacle as the presence of fire by night". (Num.9:15).

      Although Ieue Himself guided Israel through the wilderness and met Moses on Mount Sinai, He was never seen, because of the cloud by which He surrounded Himself. This should help us to see its function in our case after we have our celestial bodies and ascend into the air to meet our Lord. Mortal eyes will not be able to see us. As we will be like the One Who met Saul on the way to Damascus, they would only be blinded if they did gaze upon us.

      In the tabernacle and the temple the principal feature was the means of separating a holy God from a sinful humanity. Various walls or curtains were arranged to provide barriers between the two. The cloud which rested on the tabernacle in the wilderness served as a still further obscuration. It also pictured the celestial realm that rises above the three terrestrial heavens which were typified by the two divisions of the tabernacle and its court (Heb.9:23).


      When Christ took Peter and John and James up into the mountain to pray, and was transfigured before them, Peter, not being aware of what he was saying, suggested that they erect three tabernacles on the mountain, one for Moses, one for Elijah, and one for Jesus. "Now at His saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them. Now they were afraid at their entering into the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud saying, `This is My Son, the Chosen. Him be hearing'". (Luke 9:34-36). The disciple's inept suggestion that Moses and Elijah were of the same class as the Messiah altered the scene from radiant brilliance to cloudy gloom, and God's voice came out of the cloud to indicate Whom He had chosen.


      While Christ hung in agony on the cross, rejected by men and forsaken by His God because of the sin He bore, Luke's account tells us that darkness came over the whole land from the sixth hour till the ninth hour at the defaulting of the sun. We are not told what caused this darkness, but, in all probability, it was the result of a vast layer of clouds, separating the suffering Son from His Father on high.


      When our Lord left the disciples, after His forty day sojourn with them, He was lifted up and a cloud took Him up from their eyes (Acts 1:9). And though they continued to look intently into heaven, the cloud obscured their vision so that they could see Him no longer,. The function of the cloud is very (evident in this passage. It "took Him up from their eyes". And had He not clouded His glory during His brief stay with them after His resurrection, they would not have been able to look on Him at all.


      In contrast to this last appearance of Christ, as He vanished in clouds before the Circumcision apostles, was His blinding advent to Saul, who later was known as Paul, the apostle commissioned to the nations. No clouds shielded him from Christ's glory, which was above the brilliance of the sun at midday (Acts 26:13), and which resulted in his blindness for the next three days. This appearance, apart from clouds, was in keeping with God's greater revelations to our apostle, who was given the evangel of God's conciliation to mankind through the blood of Christ's cross. Paul was even taken into the third heaven, far above the mountain top where Peter, James and John saw Christ transfigured, and even above the clouds that overshadowed them there (2 Cor.12:3).


      Because of Paul's message of God's conciliation to mankind, both those who were once near (but separated by a cloud) and those who were far off, now have access, through our Lord Jesus Christ, into the very presence of God. God no longer dwells in a man-made temple, but His spirit homes in human hearts, in close communion with each believer. Those things which were out of an instalment have now been discarded. With Paul's perfection epistles maturity has been reached. Where, at the time first Corinthians was written, they observed by means of a mirror, in an enigma, yet now it is possible to view face to face and recognize according as we are recognized also (1 Cor.13:12). In spirit we are face to face with God, our Father, right now! There are no clouds in between.


      When the terrestrial kingdom is taken over by the Son of Mankind, He will come on the clouds of heaven accompanied by many messengers (Matt.24:30,26:64). John tells us that, "Lo! He is coming with clouds, and every eye shall be seeing Him" (Rev.1:7). The fact that He comes to set up His terrestrial kingdom with clouds perhaps explains why those who look upon Him will not be blinded as Paul was on the Damascus road. Just as we may look today at the sun through the clouds which envelop the earth and not be blinded, so also may they look upon the Son in that day, coming with clouds about Him.


      The "day" of Ieue will be a day of clouds and a time of doom for the nations (Ezek.30:3). In the commencement of this day, clouds will form the principal background, especially in the preparatory period before Christ descends to the earth.

     "And I perceived, and lo! a white cloud, and on the cloud One sitting like a son of mankind, having a golden wreath on His head, and a sharp sickle in His hand. And another messenger came out of the temple crying with a loud voice to Him Who is sitting on the cloud, "Send in Thy sickle and reap! for the harvest of the earth is dried". (Rev.14:14-15)


      The cloudiest era in the earth's history is the judgment period which lies between the present administration of grace and the coming Kingdom on earth. The Thessalonians evidently dreaded this period, which is brought before us in detail in the Unveiling, for they supposed that the clouds were already gathering. So Paul assures them that the clouds of divine judgment will not come until after our Lord Himself has descended to snatch us away before He pours His fury on the earth.

      In grace we will be changed and ascend to meet Him in the air. But, when the harvest of earth's iniquity is ripe, He descends to its surface and reaps. In these introductory acts we may see the vast difference between our celestial calling and that which brings Him down with His holy messengers to prepare the earth for the terrestrial kingdom. Which "kingdom" is to be preferred? While some have striven for a place in the 144,000, and found themselves too late, God's grace has prepared for them a much better portion far above them in the celestial kingdom.


      When our Lord returns to call us above, He does not come in the character of a Saviour from sin, but as a Rescuer from coming indignation (1 Thess.1:10). He comes as the Chief Messenger with the trumpet of God (the Placer), Who has power to put all in their proper place in every era. He is about to put mankind, Israel and the nations, on the surface of the earth, not only in the lands He has apportioned to them, but also in their subjection to Him, through Israel. But those who have been reconciled to God through the sacrifice of Christ cannot be left in or on the scene of His judgments, so Christ comes to rescue them before these commence.


      When Jesus came to Bethany, the humble home of Lazarus, He called Himself the Resurrection and the Life. Then He clamored with a loud voice, "Lazarus! Hither! Out!" And Lazarus came forth bound, feet and hands, with the binding sheets, and his countenance bound about with a handkerchief. Even after he came out he had to be loosed in order that he might go (John 11:38- 44). What a contrast when our Lord descends from heaven to call us above, when He shouts as a Commander, with the voice of the Chief Messenger and using the trumpet of the Subjector.

      When we hear our Lord's trumpet call, not only will our bodies be changed from soilish to celestial in order to rescue us from God's indignation, but the very character of the proceeding shows that the grace of the present has already given place to wrath, and we have left the administration of conciliation, or peace, and have entered into the next one, the day of wrath. This rescue, however, is not brought about by the faith in Christ's sacrifice in weakness, but by the operation of His glorious power as Lord.


      Those who are soulish are inclined to be "at home" in their fleshly bodies, but those who are spiritual would much rather be away from this home, out of this body, and be at home with the Lord (2 Cor.5:7-8). This is emphatically true of those whose present home is old and decrepit, and no longer capable of active service for the Lord. For them a spiritual body will be a real home, rather than a hindrance.


      At the end of this present administration, as Christ returns to snatch away His own to meet Him in the air, we are given spiritual, celestial bodies which cannot be held to the earth's surface by the force of gravity. Christ shouts a command and the dead in Christ rise first. God's trumpet sounds! The living who are surviving are snatched away together at the same time to meet the Lord in the air. And thus shall we always be together with the Lord. Although we are snatched away in clouds, these clouds will not separate us from our blessed Lord, but from the earth below. As the administration of grace concludes, clouds gather and darkness closes in on the earth, foreshadowing God's impending indignation. But just then we hear our Commander's shout, and pass through the clouds and into His presence, to meet Him in the air". And thus shall we always be together with the Lord. So that, console one another with these words". (1 Thess.4:17-18)

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