|HIGHLIGHTS OF DAWN||August 2014|
“Every Eye Shall See Him”
“Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him.”
THE SUBJECT OF CHRIST’S Second Coming is one which has greatly interested professed Christians since Jesus himself spoke prophetically of it nearly two thousand years ago. Many theories have been propounded over the centuries as to the manner and purpose of such a portentous event. Predictions have come and gone as to when it might take place, with disappointment usually resulting because circumstances did not materialize as expected.
Today, many still believe that the Second Advent of Christ not only will happen, but that it is not far distant in the future. According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center in Washington, DC, 41% of Americans—of all religious affiliations—believe that Jesus’ Second Coming will take place by the year 2050, less than forty years from now. Even among those Americans claiming no religious affiliation, 20% believe that Christ will return by 2050. The Pew survey also found this interesting statistic: Americans with no college experience (59%) are much more likely than college graduates (only 19%) to expect Jesus’ Second Coming by 2050.
Irrespective of how man has viewed this teaching over the centuries—or even of current statistics—the Second Coming of Christ is one of the prominent doctrines of the Bible. There are many prophecies, both in the Old Testament and in the New, relating thereto. Many of these prophecies are couched in symbolic language, but some are not. While various symbolisms are used, they are all harmonious when properly understood, and set forth clearly the essential facts concerning the Lord’s return and the period of his Second Presence. The ultimate purpose of this period will be the institution of Christ’s long-promised mediatorial kingdom, which will establish the divine will throughout the earth and destroy all enemies of truth and righteousness.
Essential to an understanding of the prophecies pertaining to our Lord’s return and Second Presence is the recognition of two important facts. First, in his death Jesus forever gave up his flesh, his humanity, for the life of the world. Second, in his resurrection by the mighty power of God, he was highly exalted to the divine nature, far above angels, principalities, and powers. (John 6:51; Eph. 1:19-22; Col. 1:15; I Pet. 3:18) By nature Jesus is now invisible to the human eye, even as God is invisible. Since it is this resurrected, divine Christ who returns at his Second Advent, his presence will need to be recognized otherwise than by seeing him with the natural eye. Confirming this, Paul said that we know “Christ after the flesh … no more.”—II Cor. 5:16
While still with his disciples prior to his crucifixion, Jesus said to them, “Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye [shall] see me.” (John 14:19) The faithful followers of the Master will see Jesus in his glorious divine body, because in the resurrection they are made like him. John explained this, saying, “It doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.”—I John 3:2
It is true that Jesus miraculously appeared to his disciples several times following his resurrection. However, on none of these occasions did the disciples see Jesus “as he is”—that is, they did not see his new, divine body. Throughout the Old Testament there are a number of references to the appearances of angels in human bodies. By nature, angels are invisible to the natural eye, and to appear to humans for the purpose of conveying messages it was necessary for them to materialize in human form. They were given divine authority and power to do this, but were not seen by men in their angelic, spiritual bodies.
The resurrected divine Christ also had this power, and used it several times when he appeared to his disciples between his resurrection and ascension. Let us examine some of the facts concerning these appearances. First of all, let us remember that the clothing Jesus used as a man was disposed of at the time of his crucifixion, and that his grave clothes were found in the tomb. His first appearance was to Mary, who thought him to be the gardener. Indeed, he was dressed as a gardener, the clothing being a part of the materialization, as on the occasion of his other appearances. Mary did not recognize Jesus by his looks, or his clothes, but by the familiar tone of his voice when he spoke her name.—John 20:13-16
Another notable appearance by Jesus was to two disciples as they journeyed to Emmaus. (Luke 24:13-32) On this occasion, Jesus evidently talked with his disciples for several hours, yet they did not recognize him. To them he was a “stranger.” He delivered a wonderfully inspiring message to them concerning the necessity for the suffering and death of the Messiah as foretold in the Old Testament scriptures. Yet, they did not recognize who it was that was imparting this wonderful information to them. It was not until the close of the day, when Jesus asked the blessing upon the evening meal, that they realized who he was. Evidently he purposely asked that blessing in his old familiar manner, and it was this that opened their eyes to his identity.
When Jesus appeared to his disciples on the shore of Galilee, he revealed himself to them by suggesting that they cast their nets on the other side of the boat, and it was immediately filled with fish. The reason this was so convincing is that he had performed a similar miracle when he called them into the ministry. (Luke 5:1-11; John 21:1-14) Each of Jesus’ appearances was different from the others, and while they would serve to convince his disciples that he had been raised from the dead, at the same time they realized that he had changed. He was no longer Jesus in the flesh, but a powerful spirit being who could come and go unobserved by human eyes except when he chose to manifest himself to them by materializing in the form of a human being.
One of Jesus’ noteworthy appearances to his disciples after his resurrection was in response to the statement made by Thomas, who declared that he would not believe his Master had been raised from the dead unless he could see the nail prints in his hands and feet, and thrust his hand into the wound in his side, inflicted by the sword of a Roman soldier while Jesus was hanging on the cross. (John 20:24-29) Jesus was not visibly present when Thomas made this statement. However, he knew about it, and to satisfy the doubter he appeared to all the disciples in an upper room, while the doors were closed, and asked Thomas to look at his hands and his feet, and to thrust his hand into his side.
This incident has been erroneously taken to mean that Jesus will go throughout eternity as a human, with hands, feet, and side scarred. We could just as well say that Jesus will be a gardener forever, or like the “stranger” who walked with the two to Emmaus. What is the true explanation of these incidents of Jesus’ appearance? Immediately following his account of Jesus’ special appearance to Thomas, John explains the matter, saying, “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.”—vs. 30
As John says, all of Jesus’ appearances to his disciples, in whatever sort of body he used at the time, were “signs.” They did not see the divine Christ, but only these materialized bodies. Indeed, they saw human, fleshly bodies. Thomas saw one with nail prints in its hands and feet. He did not see a spirit being, but a fleshly body in which Jesus miraculously appeared. It was by these appearances, and the things which Jesus said to them that they all, finally, were convinced that he had been raised from the dead. Luke wrote concerning Jesus, “To whom [the disciples] also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.”—Acts 1:3
The question legitimately arises that if Jesus returns at his Second Advent as a divine, invisible being, how is it possible for “every eye” to see him? Will Jesus again materialize and appear as a man in order to convince the world that he has returned? We do not believe so. Rather, a proper understanding of this statement in our text is to be found by recognizing that the Bible many times uses the idea of “seeing” or of “sight” to symbolize discernment or understanding.
Referring to the gospel of the kingdom which he preached, Jesus said that holy men of old had desired to “see” these things, but had been unable to do so. Then, to his disciples the Master said, “Blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.” (Matt. 13:16,17) Here there is no reference to literal eyes and literal sight. The thought is of discernment and understanding that was granted to the disciples by the special favor of the Lord.
When Job was suffering the great affliction which God permitted to come upon him, he said, “Though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.” (Job 19:26,27) Job was one of God’s prophets, and we may understand this to be a prophecy of the time when the glory of the Lord will fill the whole earth, and all flesh shall see, or discern, it together. This is speaking of symbolic vision, for actually, as God himself declared to Moses, “There shall no man see me, and live.”—Exod. 33:20
In the case of Job, there was also a more immediate fulfillment of his prophecy. When he had learned the important lesson of the severe trial which had come upon him, Job said to God, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.” (Job 42:5) This was not a literal vision which Job had of the Almighty, but a discernment, an understanding of his greatness, his wisdom, his love, and his power. Job had learned to understand the great Creator better as a result of his afflictions, and he describes this understanding as seeing God.
Isaiah 52:10 reads, “The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” This is a very revealing symbolic use of the sense of sight. The “holy arm” referred to in this text is Jesus, the Messiah. First, this “holy arm” was “despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” He was “brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.”—Isa. 53:3,7
This “holy arm” of the Lord, who became “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world,” was not revealed, or “made bare … in the eyes of all the nations,” at his First Advent. (John 1:29) The prophetic “report” of his greatness as the Messiah was not believed by those of his own nation except for a small minority who became his devoted followers. He came as the “light of the world,” but the world rejected the light, and continued on in darkness.
The plan of God, centered in Jesus as his “holy arm,” to enlighten and bless all the families of the earth, is yet to be accomplished. Isaiah wrote, “The pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.” (Isa. 53:10) The sacrificial work of Jesus at his First Advent provided redemption for mankind from sin and death, and therefore was essential to the outworking of God’s plan of salvation. However, it is not until the period of his Second Presence that this “holy arm” will be made “bare,” or revealed, “in the eyes of all the nations.” Then “all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” which Jesus provided at his First Advent when he gave his flesh—his earthly life—for sin-cursed and dying humanity.
We have cited this prophecy as another example of the symbolic use of the sense of sight. No one will contend that the prophecy refers to the literal “arm” of the Lord. The arm is symbolic, and its being made bare in the eyes of all the nations is also symbolic. It is only because of the false notions many have had concerning Jesus since his resurrection, and the manner of his return, that they have tried to visualize him literally appearing in clouds as a man, with every literal eye on earth beholding him. If we examine this prophecy in the light of reason, as well as other scriptures in which the eye and sight are used to denote discernment, it becomes understandable and harmonious with the general testimony of the Word of God.
HE COMES WITH CLOUDS
The first part of our opening text reads, “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him.” From a literal standpoint, this is a strange statement, because anything, or any being, coming “with clouds” would most likely be concealed by the clouds. However, the language of this prophecy implies that it is these very “clouds” which reveal the presence of Jesus. Clouds are used in the prophecies of the Bible to symbolize distress and trouble, and Jesus explained to his disciples that one of the signs of his return and Second Presence would be a time of “great tribulation.”—Matt. 24:21,22
We now note Jesus’ further symbolic prophecy, as recorded by Luke: “There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”—Luke 21:25-27
Matthew quotes a portion of this same prophecy, which reads, “Then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (Matt. 24:30) There is much evidence that the world is now passing through the foretold time of “great tribulation,” and there is already great mourning on the part of “all the tribes of the earth.”
The world in general does not yet correctly discern the meaning of the present “distress of nations, with perplexity.” To those not acquainted with the “sure word of prophecy,” this “sign of the Son of man” has not yet manifested itself. However, in due time it will, and then “every eye” will discern the meaning of the “tribulation,” and understand that Christ has returned to establish his long-promised kingdom. Indeed, even now the faithful “watchers,” but only these, see the many evidences that Christ’s has already returned, invisibly, and is engaged in the preparatory work necessary for the establishment of his kingdom.
THEY THAT PIERCED HIM
Our text emphasizes that “they also” who pierced Jesus will “see” him, and, together with “all kindreds of the earth,” will “wail,” or mourn, because of him. The mourning on the part of those who pierced Jesus will be on account of their former rejection of their Messiah. We read, “I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.”—Zech. 12:10
Such a sorrowful condition is due to the Jews’ belated recognition of Jesus as their Messiah. The prophecies reveal that this mourning will take place near the close of the great tribulation during which all the tribes of the earth likewise mourn because of the distress through which they are passing. The climax of this great Armageddon struggle, will, according to the prophecies, take place in the ancient land of Israel, into which many Jews are now gathered since its reestablishment as a nation in 1948.
Prophecies concerning this are recorded in the 38th and 39th chapters of Ezekiel. Verse 8 of chapter 38 is addressed to Israel, and reads, “After many days thou shalt be visited: in the latter years thou shalt come into the land that is brought back from the sword, and is gathered out of many people, against the mountains of Israel, which have been always waste: but it is brought forth out of the nations, and they shall dwell safely all of them.” To Gog and his aggressive hordes—enemies of Israel—the statement is made, “Thou shalt ascend and come like a storm, thou shalt be like a cloud to cover the land, thou, and all thy bands, and many people with thee.”—vs. 9
This prophecy reveals further details concerning this assault against the regathered Jews in the nation of Israel, and reveals that in this final struggle God will rise up to defend his people against their enemies. We read, “I will call for a sword against him throughout all my mountains, saith the Lord GOD: every man’s sword shall be against his brother. And I will plead against him with pestilence and with blood; and I will rain upon him, and upon his bands, and upon the many people that are with him, an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire, and brimstone. Thus will I magnify myself, and sanctify myself; and I will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am the Lord.”—vss. 21-23
Doubtless this description of the weapons the Lord will use against those besieging Israel in this final Armageddon struggle is largely figurative. We cannot know these details in advance. The important point here is that as a result of God’s intervention in this struggle the “eyes” of the nations are opened. They will recognize that they have been defeated, not by the superior arms or fighting abilities of the Israelites, but by divine power. This intervention will come through the returned Christ, and thus will be fulfilled the words of our text that “every eye” shall see him.
While “every eye” will eventually discern the meaning of what takes place in Israel in the closing days of Armageddon, the faithful remnant of Jews who recognize Christ, their Messiah, as the source of their victory over humanly impossible odds will be the first to benefit from this experience. Others will then follow, and “see” it is the very one whom they “pierced” that has delivered them. Thus, Ezekiel’s prophecy continues: “So will I make my holy name known in the midst of my people Israel; and I will not let them pollute my holy name any more: and the heathen shall know that I am the Lord, the Holy One in Israel.”—Ezek. 39:7
The closing phase of the great tribulation during which all the nations mourn is also described by the Prophet Zechariah. “Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee. For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle.”—Zech. 14:1-3
While this prophecy reveals that God will ultimately deliver his people Israel from their enemies, it will not be until they have had some very severe experiences at the hands of aggressor nations. We cannot, in advance, know in detail the manner in which all these climactic events will be fulfilled. However, on the basis of the foregoing prophecies cited, it seems evident that there is to be future trouble for the regathered Israelites prior to a manifestation of divine intervention on their behalf.
When divine intervention does come, it will be through Christ and his glorified body members. This Christ class will be the spiritual rulers in the Messianic kingdom who will manifest authority and power in the affairs of men. One of the great accomplishments of that kingdom will be the enlightenment of the people concerning the true God and what his will is for them. This will require the entire kingdom period for its accomplishment. First, the generation living at that time will witness the power and great glory with which the kingdom will begin. Then will come the gradual awakening of all the dead—all who have died since Adam. All of these billions will need to be instructed concerning God and his laws of righteousness.
“The law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem,” we read in Micah 4:1-4. “Zion” here is a symbol of the spiritual phase of the kingdom, consisting of Jesus and his glorified church, who are brought forth in the first resurrection to be associated with Christ in his thousand-year reign. (Rev. 20:6) “Jerusalem” represents the human, or visible, phase of the kingdom. This will be made up of the ancient, faithful servants of God, beginning with righteous Abel. John the Baptist was perhaps the last of these. These will be made “princes in all the earth.”—Ps. 45:16
The “word of the Lord,” or the truth concerning God and his will and law, will be made known to the people through these human representatives of the kingdom. These will be the earthly rulers in the kingdom. The obedient subjects of the kingdom, beginning with the remnant of believing Israelites, will share in this work of enlightening others. As we have noted, this grand work will not be accomplished all at once. Quoting the words of the prophet: “It shall come to pass in that day, that the light shall not be clear, nor dark: But it shall be one day which shall be known to the Lord, not day, nor night: but it shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light.”—Zech. 14:6,7
Light is a symbol of truth—of understanding—but the light of the kingdom will not be wholly clear until the close of the thousand years. As our text declares, “every eye” will discern the presence of the Master during the opening period of that day, but there will be much more for mankind to learn. As we have seen also, there will be the further work of enlightening all who are awakened from the sleep of death. Not until the close of that day will the “vail” of misunderstanding be fully removed from the eyes of all the people. (Isa. 25:7) It will be then that “the knowledge of the Lord” shall fill the earth “as the waters cover the sea.”—Isa. 11:9
Not only will mankind receive the blessing of enlightenment, but peace, health, and life will flow out to the people. God will then “swallow up death in victory,” and wipe away the “tears from off all faces.” (Isa. 25:8) Truly, the prospect for Israel and for the people of all nations is glorious. While distress and trouble are rampant in the earth today, this situation is soon to give place to the authority of Christ’s kingdom, through the agencies of which there shall be lasting peace, security, happiness, and life to all the willing and obedient of mankind. How the people will then rejoice as they “see” and discern not only Christ, but also their loving Heavenly Father, the God of their salvation!—vs. 9