Coming in the Clouds
Old Testament Readings: Daniel 7:13-14;
New Testament Reading:
More and more lately I have been considering the literary
critical technique of deconstruction. I
have threatened one day to try
a sermon based on a
deconstructionist exegesis of a passage. That
day has come, because the New
Testament passage I've chosen
fairly cries out to be
deconstructed! Let me read it again:
"Behold, he is coming in the clouds, and every eye will
every one who pierced him."
Now this text at first glance seems fairly clear in its
implication: Christ will come and then
there will be neither secrecy nor
any place to hide. One will not be
able to avoid facing the
music. Yet there are tensions
between meanings in the text,
implicit contradictions. These may
result from John's combination
of the two
passages that served as our Old Testament readings.
But in any case, I am going to try to show how, as often
the contradictions in a passage are
the most helpful part of it!
They tell us things undreamt of in the straightforward part
The first tension is the exhortation to "Behold!"
Why must you be
told to do this, implying you might
not do it otherwise, if the
coming of Christ will be such that
no one can help seeing it? If
every eye will see it, surely no
one needs to be told to look!
The condition implied in the need for the exhortation cannot
But, on the other hand, a command to look to see makes
sense in light of the condition
implied in the qualifier that it
is in the
clouds that he comes.
How does he come in the clouds? I have always taken the
to be to the clouds of an Olympian
Heaven. He will be seen in the
sky. And perhaps that is the
intention of Daniel and John. But I
cannot ignore the happy sense it
would make if, in light of the
exhortation to look, to strain to
see, the clouds were instead to
denote that Christ is coming
through an obscuring medium of some
sort. A nebula of
And perhaps due to that cloudy lens, every eye
will see him differently! One can only note that for some of those who will
see him to have pierced him when they
saw him before means that his
appearing was hardly unambiguous!
And it has, I dare say, become
The text before us suggests to me another biblical image
wish to apply to Jesus. I think of
something else that cometh
with the clouds, and that is so
vast that every eye may see it,
remarkable that it still prompts gasps and upward gazes.
The Priestly account of Noah's Flood in Genesis 9 tries to
account for the origin of the rainbow
as a token of God's pledge
never to flood out the world again.
He places his archer's bow,
the one he uses to fire off his
lightning bolts, suspended in the
clouds. It would appear as a signal
to turn the water off. Of
course the ancients had no way of
knowing that the rainbow
appears once it has just stopped
raining. They thought it stopped
soon as the bow appeared.
Jesus as the rainbow? Why not? Both
are symbols of the covenant
God. And both connect heaven and earth.
But more to my point this morning is the fact that the
only visible once it becomes
distorted by the clouds in which it
When the rain has ceased, there are still water droplets in
clouds. Those drops function as a
prism to refract the invisible
white light into the spectacular
color bands, and the rainbow is
the result. If the light were not
bent by the distorting medium
of the water-vapor clouds, no one
could see it. There would be
nothing to see.
So with Jesus Christ. He is the
light of the world. But the light
is blinding to human eyes. It must
be refracted, filtered, distorted by the clouds, the limiting
conditions of human perception.
The medium that makes him visible also distorts what is made
visible. And thus every eye sees
him differently. It is the only
way; otherwise he will not be seen
at all! Every viewer must be
strain to see for himself.
Here is a passage from the apocryphal Acts of John that
illustrates this point:
When he had chosen
Peter and Andrew, ... he came to me and to
brother James, saying, "I need you; come with me!" And my
said this to me, "John, what does he want, this child
the shore who called us?" And I said, "Which child?" And he
answered me, "The one who is beckoning to us." And I said,
because of the long watch we have kept at sea. You
not seeing straight, brother James. Do you not see the
standing there who is handsome, fair, and cheerful-looking?"
But he said to me, "I do not see that man, my
But let us go, and we will see what this means." And
we had brought the boat to land we saw how he also
us to beach the boat. And as we left the place wishing
follow him, he appeared to me again as rather bald-headed
with a thick-flowing beard, but to James as a young man
beard was just beginning. So we wondered both of us
the meaning of the vision we had seen.
Well, at least it means that people see Jesus Christ much
differently, that as Harry Reasoner
once said, "Jesus Christ, like
truth, is in the eye of the beholder.
Scholars today trade and debate many theories as to what the
historical Jesus was really like.
Was he a charismatic rabbi? Was
he like a Jewish Zen master? Was he
a Cynic preacher? A revolutionist who sought to drive the
Romans out of Palestine? Was he a
magician? Did he put himself forth
as a prophet? As God's messiah? All these views have a
good deal to be said for them.