Behold, he comes with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him…
St. John is speaking in the language of ancient prophecy. Christ is coming. "Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him." This is a truth of the faith, and St. John corroborates Daniel, not because he imitates the prophetic spirit by echoing prophetic phrase, but because each prophet stands on a mountain peak of Revelation, and surveys an unalterable fact. For the mind to grow into the force of that fact is one of the most necessary methods of advance in the Spirit and will of God.
I. ST. JOHN IS SPEAKING IN THE LANGUAGE OF A SEER, WHICH IS THE REAL LANGUAGE OF MAN'S IMMORTAL LIFE. His words are a cry of relieved tension of feeling, of suddenly fulfilled expectation; like the watcher from Athens catching sight of the corn-ships as they doubled Sunium; like the anxious gazer descrying in the distance the British flag which announced approaching relief to the beleaguered sufferers in Lucknow; like the dying man straining the ear through the silent night for the first footfall of one he loves, and longs to see before he dies.
1. Man expresses his sense of relation to objects and persons external to himself by two names — Time and Eternity. These names of course represent real ideas. These ideas are dim and vague enough. Surely he has to learn that Time is "a phantom of succession"; that he himself, not Time, is moving on; that now his life is partially developed; surely he has to realise that Eternity can include no sense of succession, but represents life as fully possessed. We must learn in the things of the soul to weigh and measure by the scales, by the standard of Eternity, for we are immortal. Speaking, then, as we should speak, with a sense of our full, our endless life, the close of the great conflict is not far off.
2. To each one of us there shall be a full consciousness of the coming and the presence of the Lord. "Every eye shall see Him." The eye is the watch-tower of the human spirit, whither it ascends to view God's universe. The eye is the instrument by which impressions from the objects of an outer world, impressions of colour and harmony and form, are conveyed to the lonely soul. The eye can alone convey the message, the power to use it is in the soul itself. My friends, it would seem that the human soul has a strong likeness to the poor frail human body. Living, though sick with sin, it is conscious, in a dreamlike consciousness, of the presence and claims of God; if life is failing in it, if the disease of sin is settling into spiritual death, it loses that consciousness. But one thing is certain: the hour is coming when each of us — with a consciousness of soul as clear as the sight of the eye of the body — when each of us shall see the fairest, the most awful vision, the coming Christ. Here we see but dimly; there will be the full revelation.
II. WE ARE BROUGHT FACE TO FACE WITH HIM WHOSE APPEARING SHALL BE THE INTERPRETATION OF ALL DREAMS, THE SOLUTION OF ALL PERPLEXING PROBLEMS, "BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH CLOUDS."
1. St. John's account of the pageant of Christ's appearing is an appeal to an instinct of humanity face to face with nature. Of all natural objects that awaken the sense none can rival for power mountains, clouds, and sea. But clouds combine, in a measure, the resources of sea and mountains; smoothed out at dawn or sunset, twisted into strange contortions by the storm, they rival the solemnity of mountains in their vast proportions, and imitate in their changeful movements the beating of the waves. Everywhere they give the sense of thinly veiled depths of mystery yet to be revealed, and of the wrath and power of God against human sin. When Christ comes, then, this is certain, He will come revealing "hidden things of darkness," ay! and hidden things of light. It will be a time of unveiling. But more: He will come in the fully manifested display of God's irreconcilable antagonism to human sin. It will be a moment of startling and complete revelation.
2. But there is a further feature, the most striking of all. It is an unexpected touch in the picture which follows — "they also that pierced Him" — a sudden allusion to the Passion. Doubtless there is a warning in such words, that those who deride, reject, or seek to destroy the highest goodness now shall one day see the magnitude of their madness. But this is not all. Face to face with human sin in its closing crisis, the great Representative of the race displays before assembled worlds the extent of its malignity in wounding God. Even those who have hated it most shall then for the first time vividly realise its actual dreadfulness. And in these wounds of the Passion are exhibited the stores of the experience of human life, He is in direct relation to all, for all have pierced Him, and He has learned by experience the sorrow and sin of that humanity which is common to all. And then we are reminded that the judgment to follow takes its force and derives its necessity from the necessities of His nature. With the knowledge of God He comes, and with the feelings and experiences of man.
3. The great wail of the human family recorded in the close of the verse is its outspoken sign of recognition of the truth. In some — His persecuting enemies — the cry of fear and fury at the certainty of the triumph of goodness; to some undeveloped soul the anguish of fuller recognition of that marvellous majesty, which on earth it only recognised by stray sigh of penitence or a passing thought of desire: to some who through no fault of their own, by a specialite of circumstances, or mystery of mental build, or owing to a fog of prejudice, or an involuntarily blinded mind, have never known Him — the purifying sorrow of awakening at last to the unveiled beauty; to some who have known and loved Him, the fuller sense — for love is the real illumination — of how unworthy they have been, how their best has been bad, their self-sacrifices pitiful, face to face with the unshrouded loveliness of that supernatural sorrow.
III. WHAT, THEN, IS THE RELATION OF THAT FINAL VISION WITH THE MYSTERY OF THE PASSION? This: in that supreme crisis of humanity it is a mystery no more; or rather the souls of those who are passing from the limitations of time are themselves in a sphere of mystery; they see, they understand such visions with the quickened senses of eternity. Life here is in deepest shadow, but nothing since the beginning of creation has been so wrapped in shadow as the fact and the consequences of Calvary; if that be clear, all must be plain. And clear it will be. Christ is the Great Revealer, in Him we shall see all. What shall we see? This. The real meaning of humility. The strange and now interpreted story of the humiliation of the Cross. What shall we see? The perfected sympathy of God in Christ with all that is truly human, all that would permit that sympathy by a surrendered will. What shall we see? The evident and now intelligible splendour of the ideal of humanity. But, oh! the surprise of the souls of the blessed when first they see unveiled in awe and majesty the ideal of Divine, of human beauty — the Fairest of the fair! What shall we see? The meaning of suffering. It seemed awful, almost cruel, when borne in the darkness of probation, but here is the end. In the light of the Crucified now in unshrouded beauty, the full splendour of that suffering once borne with difficulty, but borne in patience, will reveal what, in the "valley of the shadow," lay concealed within it — some inconceivable secret of the love and the loveliness of God. What shall we see? We shall see in its overwhelming glory the mystery of power. It could only speak on earth in the mystic but eloquent symbol of the Cross. Here it is plain in the clear Revelation. Power elevating, perfecting the uncreated beauty. The power that could deal with the ruin of the creature, the redeemed the work of the Redeemer, the forces of redemption — God in Christ.
(Canon Knox Little.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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. Even so, Amen.