As a boy on my dad’s flatland prairie farm, I could stand in our pasture and see 360 degrees of horizon. On drowsy July days, the sky’s blue dome became a celestial theater screen, boiling with white, eight-mile-high thunderclouds whose purple underbellies flickered with lightning.
Mom and Dad could read the sky like a weather report. A gray-black band of clouds to the northwest, with whitish gray beneath it, meant we’d have a hailstorm in six hours. And “sun dogs,” bright spots to the left or right of the sun, portended cold weather.
Often, staring up at the sky, I remembered something the Bible had to say about clouds. In Matthew 24, Jesus tells us what will happen at His return: “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven,” He said. “And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30). Mark and Luke also record Jesus’ words about coming in the clouds (Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27).
In Acts 1:9–11, Jesus’ disciples watched as He rose from the earth to return to heaven. Luke (the author of Acts) said that Jesus “was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight” (verse 9). Then two angels appeared to comfort the disciples. “ ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven’ ” (verse 11).
Why is this important?
Does it really matter whether Jesus will descend visibly from heaven? Couldn’t He simply appear without warning in a major city such as London or New York or Jerusalem and begin His victory tour from there? He would immediately get ample coverage from CNN and other news sources. Why the vertical arrival? It’s important for several reasons:
Jesus’ sky arrival is important because everyone on Earth will be able to see Him. “Look, he is coming with the clouds,” says Revelation 1:7, “and ‘every eye will see him, even those who pierced him.’ ” At His Sanhedrin trial, surrounded by the high priest and other accusers, and knowing that what He said would set the seal on His crucifixion, Jesus announced, “I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64).
“Every eye will see Him.” Jesus isn’t returning only for people with TVs, smartphones, and Twitter feeds. News that’s controlled by the media can knowingly or unknowingly twist or conceal the truth. The Savior who died for everyone wants to avoid this “spin cycle” and let everyone see and evaluate this event with his or her own eyes.
Jesus’ sky arrival is important because messiah imposters will try to deceive us. The Savior warns us, “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you ahead of time.
“So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it” (Matthew 24:24–26).
This deception might be small-scale or large-scale. An example of a small-scale deception is a large poster I once saw bearing the photograph of a man with long hair and a mild face. The poster informed me that if I attended this man’s seminar, not only would he teach me the art of meditation but I would get to meet Jesus—because this man claimed that he was the returned Christ. I don’t know how many people attended his seminar and believed that this man was the Messiah, but I was not one of them—partly because I had read and believed the warnings of the real Jesus in Matthew 24.
And large-scale deception is even more dangerous and devastating. In 2 Corinthians 11:14, Paul said that when it suits his purpose, “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” We need to keep in mind that Satan was effective in deceiving even our first mother, Eve, whose mind had been created perfect and sinless. And we must also remember how cruelly effective he has been since then in convincing people to substitute false gods for the true one. It’s almost certain that just before Jesus’ returns Satan will attempt a dazzling deception, perhaps even trying to impersonate Jesus Himself. Only people who have fortified their minds with the Bible facts about Jesus’ return will be able to see through such deceptions.
Jesus’ sky arrival is important to keep His faithful people safe during Earth’s final convulsions. “There was a great earthquake,” wrote John in Revelation 6:12, and he goes on to describe how “every mountain and island was removed from its place” (verse 14). We know that these events will happen just before Jesus’ coming, because in the following verses the sinners scream for the rocks and mountains to cover them. “Fall on us,” they cry, “and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!” (verse 16).
But to God’s people—those who have claimed the free gift of Jesus’ righteousness and have invited Him to be the Lord of their lives—Jesus’ sky arrival will be joyful beyond expression. They’ll discover even more deeply and powerfully how much He loves them, because He will have led the shining hosts of heaven past billions of galaxies toward the tiny blue-green planet—that one “lost sheep” on which He has lavished so much love and concern.
Paul assured us that “the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–18).
Are you encouraged? I am. The next time you glance up at the sky—whether it’s overcast or a blue dome flecked with fleecy clouds—remember the Creator who gave us the atmosphere and clouds and rain and sun. Remember how He became human like you and me and walked this planet. Remember how first He was lifted up on the cross to die for our sins and then lifted up in the clouds to return to His Father and receive the assurance that His sacrifice was not in vain.
And remember to accept Him into your life so that you, along with the rest of the redeemed, can one day look into the sky and shout,
“Behold, this is our God;
We have waited for Him, and He will save us.
This is the LORD;
We have waited for Him;
We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation” (Isaiah 25:9, NKJV).*
* Bible texts marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.