“Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.” (Revelation 1:7)
In Hebrew usage, clouds were a metaphor for the rule of heaven. In Daniel 7:13, the Son of Man ascends on the clouds into heaven which means he is given rule over all the nations of the earth. If Jesus is said to come on the clouds, it means that his rule is coming to exert its influence upon the nations.
Many times, in the Old Testament, God is said to be coming on the clouds. A lengthy example is found in Psalm 18:
“In my distress I called upon the Lord…Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked… He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, thick clouds dark with water. Out of the brightness before him hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds. The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice, hailstones and coals of fire. And he sent out his arrows and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings and routed them.” (Psalm 18:6-14)
David called to the Lord for help. God came on the clouds, in the winds and in the lightening. These are clearly metaphors for the coming of heaven’s rule. David did not mean us to take these statements literally. It was the same when Jesus used these images in Matthew 24 to describe his coming. These metaphors describe the coming of the rule of heaven, in the case of Revelation 1:7, to judge Jerusalem.
“Every eye shall see him, even those who pierced him.” (Rev 1:7) This means that the judgement shall come upon the whole community, and the text specifies the community it is speaking about: “those who pierced him,” i.e., that generation in which John lived, in which Jesus was crucified.
“And all the tribes of the earth” (Rev 1:7) The word for “tribes” here is phulé, which is used when speaking of the tribes of Israel.
The term isn’t limited to the tribes of Israel, but the word used for the nations of the world is usually ethnos. The word used for “earth,” is land, ge in the Greek, which is used also for the land of Israel. It doesn’t mean the whole world, for which a common word might be kosmos.
“And they shall wail (mourn) for him.” (Rev 1:7) This is a quote from Zechariah 12:10, which describes both the Spirit given to the people of God in the gospel and also the judgement that would come to Jerusalem at that time, “And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplication; and they shall look unto me whom they have pierced; and they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born.” Zechariah referenced this to Mediggo (vs. 11), or as Revelation calls is, Armageddon, lit., mount of Mediggo, probably for the destruction of the temple mount.
Jesus referred to this when on his way to Calvary: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’” (Luke 23:28-30, Rev 6:16, Hosea 10:8) Jesus said here, as he also did in Matthew 24, that this would happen in their own generation in which he was crucified.
In Matthew 24, the disciples asked Jesus about his coming. There, he used the same language to describe the judgement on Jerusalem. This followed the discourse in Matthew 23, in which the reasons for this judgement were given: “seven wows,” which coincides with the seven judgements of Revelation. In Matthew 24, Jesus said that all he spoke of, would be fulfilled before the end of that generation. In Matthew 24:14, where he said the gospel was to be preached “in all the world before the end would come,” the words used there refer to the Jewish diaspora in the Roman Empire/ world, before the end of the temple age would occur, as spoken of in Daniel 9:26.
It is very unfortunate when we interpret the “wars and rumours of wars” in Matthew 24 as our means today of “bringing in the kingdom,” giving the church a violent disposition. This statement was about the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. The kingdom of God comes through the cross-bearing, self-giving, enemy-loving witness of the church.
This doesn’t mean that there is no “second coming” in the traditional Christian understanding. The coming or appearing of God’s rule to this world, in its Hebrew vision, goes far beyond the judgement of Jerusalem. In its ultimate presence, the kingdom renews the whole creation and abolishes death. This is seen in Revelation 21-22, in which heaven and earth come together in one.
The bible often uses metaphors for this, e.g., Paul’s in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, which borrows from Hebrew and Roman themes, where we meet Christ in the air, but the reality these metaphors express is a renewed creation.
The appearing, coming, revealing or presence of Christ’s rule includes different meanings in the Apostles’ writings, from his vindication, to his rescuing, to the final overthrow of all his enemies: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2)