Rev. Langerak is pastor or Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
After the ascension, angels told the watching disciples, “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go” (Acts 1:11). He was taken up bodily, and in like manner He shall one day return. He was also received by a cloud, and so likewise the Son of man will return—He shall come in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (Dan. 7:13; Matt. 24:30, 26:64).
It was significant that Jesus was received into heaven by a cloud. Clouds are transcendent. Their purpose is to cover and separate. God made clouds a garment for the seas and covering for heaven (Job 38:9; Ps. 147:8). With clouds God covers the light (Job 36:32). As with a thick cloud, He blots out our transgressions (Is. 44:22). God may even cover us with a cloud for a time in His anger, or cover Himself with a cloud that our prayers pass not through (Lam. 2:1, 3:44).
When Jesus ascended into the clouds, He proved that He is the glorious, majestic God. His home is the dark waters and thick clouds of the sky (Ps. 18:11). Clouds are the dust of His feet and are round about Him (Nah. 1:3; Ps. 97:2). His strength is in the clouds (Ps. 68:34). He makes the clouds His chariot and from them He smites His enemies (Ps. 104:3; Isaiah 19:1). Even His covenant faithfulness, mercy, and truth reach high unto the clouds (Ps. 36:5, 57:10, 108:4), clouds in which He sets a rainbow as a token of that unbreakable covenant (Gen. 9:13-16).
Yet, He is very near—God immanent. In a cloud, this majestic, gloriously transcendent Jesus once dwelt closely with His church. They were a people under the cloud (I Cor. 10:1). In a cloud He appeared in His glory (Ex. 16:10), led them from the bondage of sin and death through the wilderness (Ex. 13:21), protected them from threatening hosts (Ex. 14:19ff.), baptized them (I Cor. 10:2), lived and worshiped with them (Ex. 40:34; Lev. 16:13; I Kings 8:10), and talked with them (Ex. 19:9, 33:9;Num. 11:25). So now, though living bodily in heavenly clouds, He is near us by His Word and Spirit (I John 4:13). But soon face to face.
Now in heaven, Jesus sovereignly controls the clouds to accomplish His purpose. He established the clouds above (Prov. 8:28). They are so many bottles in His heavenly pantry that He numbers, gives purpose, and sends where He desires (Job 37:15-16, 38:37). He commands them from above as doors of heaven (Ps. 78:23). By His knowledge they drop down their dew (Prov. 3:20) and distil water upon man abundantly (Job 36:28). When He speaks they may give no rain at all (Is. 5:6), as happened for three and a half years in Israel. Yet at the fervent prayer of a righteous man, one little cloud announced a fresh deluge of rain (I Kings 18:44-5; James 5:17-18).
Though some say rain is an example of a common grace God gives to the ungodly, the clouds teach otherwise. There is a difference created between clouds themselves. While the saints are a great cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12:1), the wicked are clouds without water, carried by tempest to the mist of darkness forever (II Pet. 2:17;Jude 1:12). The supposed goodness of the wicked quickly vanishes as a morning cloud, and as a cloud he himself shall perish (Job. 7:9, 20:6; Hos. 6:4, 13:3). Then there is the fact that from one cloud may come both blessing and curse. When the Lord marched from Edom, His clouds rained destruction upon the enemy but gave victory to Deborah and Barak (Judges 5:4). And within a single cloud God once stood between the church and the wicked, protecting the beloved people and giving them light, while glowering upon the other, the despised people, whom He soon would drown (Ex. 14:19ff.).
Jesus is as a bright morning without clouds (II Sam. 23:4), yet clouds are a sign of His return (Matt. 24:30). He sits now upon a white cloud, is clothed with them, and crowned with the rainbow that He set in the clouds—but He has a sharp sickle in His hand (Rev. 10:1, 14:14). The day of the sickle will be a day of gloomy clouds and thick darkness for the heathen (Ezek. 30:3; Joel 2:2). But it will be a day of rejoicing for His covenant people, who will be caught up together in the clouds to meet Him in the air (I Thess. 4:17). See Him sitting on the right hand of power, and coming on those clouds with power and great glory. Behold! He cometh with clouds (Rev. 1:7).