Apocalyptic dramatic background - bright lighnings in dark red stormy sky, judgment day, armageddon (Photo by I_g0rZh)
Does the Bible make a distinction between Jesus' glorified visitation to bring about the fulfillment of End Time events, and his, still-in-the future, bodily return to raise the dead and preside over the final judgment?
Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. 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.
Jesus Christ to his disciples in Matthew 24:30 (circa 50-60 AD)
The key to demystifying End Time prophecy is to correctly distinguish between passages that describe Jesus' glorified visitation, and his physical, bodily return. Jesus Christ's physical, bodily form refers to that of the natural, incarnate God-man. Conversely, a glorified visitation refers to the non-physical manifestation of his divinity. Jesus' description of himself as the "Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven" in the passage above was an End Time reference borrowed from the Old Testament prophet Daniel:
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.
Daniel's Dream of Four Beasts in Daniel 7:13 (circa 556-521 BC)
"Son of Man" was the Savior's preferred title when speaking of himself in the third person. The imagery of the "Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven" is a prime example of divine manifestation, rather than a physical, bodily appearance. Notice that the Son of Man does not descend to earth, but is brought before the Ancient of Days (i.e., the God and Father) to be given "authority, glory and sovereign power..." (Daniel 7:14). The concept of divine manifestation in the absence of a physical appearance can be traced back to the time of Moses and the Israelites' exodus from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 13:21, 16:10, 19:9-20, 34:5, Deuteronomy 33:26), and continued in the writings of the prophets (Psalm 18:9-12, 97:2, 104:3, Jeremiah 4:13, Joel 2:2, 2:30, Isaiah 19:1). For example, notice how the glorified presence of the Lord is veiled in meteorological phenomena such as clouds, thunder, etc. in the following passage:
The Lord will cause people to hear his majestic voice and will make them see his arm coming down with raging anger and consuming fire, with cloudburst, thunderstorm and hail.
A woe to the obstinate nation in Isaiah 30:30 (circa 740-680 BC)
The apostle John used the same language of divine manifestation in his visions concerning Jesus' glorified visitation in fulfillment of the End Time events that transpired in the first-century AD (Revelation 1:7, 14:14). Likewise, the apostle Paul also adopts imagery that is distinct from a physical, bodily return of the King that is reminiscent of the Old Testament prophets:
This [God's vengeance] will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels... on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed.
The apostle Paul to the Thessalonians in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10 (circa 51 AD)
Compare and contrast Paul's implementation of the divine punishment imagery above with its absence in the following passage concerning the still-in-the future, last day resurrection (John 6:39-40, 44, 54, 11:24, 12:48):
For 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.
The apostle Paul to the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 (circa 51 AD)
Notice that Paul describes Jesus' return as personal and bodily (i.e., "the Lord himself will come down from heaven..."), and excludes Jesus being accompanied by meteorological phenomena such as clouds, thunder, fire, etc. The passage also describes something that Paul's 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10 passage lacks... the resurrection (i.e., "the dead in Christ will rise first..."). This is important because divine punishment passages in the Bible make no mention of the resurrection, whereas, passages pertaining to the Lord's physical, bodily return, do (Matthew 25:31-46).
The table below provides a comparison of New Testament passages that describe the risen Savior manifesting himself in glory, or returning physically in bodily form.
Summary of Jesus'
||Day of the Lord
Does God wish for us to make a distinction between a divine manifestation and his physical, bodily appearance as in the person of Jesus Christ? Or, should we combine contexts to extrapolate a Futurist perspective of End Time Bible prophecy and look for a physical return of Jesus riding a white horse with clouds and wielding a rod of iron? Moses makes it clear to the Israelites that the glorious display of God's power and majesty is formless, non-physical, so as to not inspire idolatry on the part of any onlookers:
You saw no form of any kind the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape.
Moses to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 4:15-16 (circa 1260 BC)
In conclusion, if we follow the same hermeneutic involving the Lord's contrasting appearances in both the Old and New Testaments, we see that a bodily return is not synonymous with a glorified visitation. The phraseology of Old Testament prophecies in regard to God coming with clouds, fire, etc., indicative of his punishment on rebellious nations, was identical to Jesus' prophecies of the coming punishment on apostate Jerusalem that was fulfilled in the first-century AD by the Romans. Since God never appeared physically (i.e., in the pre-incarnate person of Jesus Christ) in the fulfillment of Old Testament "day of the Lord" prophecies, we should not expect Christ to return bodily in his "end of the age" prophecies either. A past fulfillment of Jesus' glorified visitation in first-century AD Jerusalem is supported in Scripture without a concomitant bodily return of Christ to raise the dead and preside over the final judgment.
Sabz, S. (2015, October 17). Glorified visitation vs. bodily return. Retrieved from https://scienceandbibleresearch.com/glorified-visitation-bodily-return.html